Indie Authors are Independent Business Owners. They MUST monitor the market and have the flexibility to adapt to what readers want.
The launch of the Pennsylvania Omnibus and the subsequent marketing program for the book was a planned thing. My plan flew in the face of the commonly accepted wisdom, which shouldn’t surprise anyone who actually knows me. I have been heartened by the response of fans to the book, and a lot of what has happened was the result of a carefully laid out plan that focused on quality and value rather than cheap and early volume.
The e-book world has changed radically in the last few years. Heck, it’s changed radically in the last few months. Kindle stuffing (getting as many copies stuffed into e-book readers as possible) was a common launch tactic for quite a while after the Indie revolution began. And in many, many cases – it was successful.
**Here is where I would insert the YouTube video of Roger Sterling from Mad Men saying, “You know what is genius? Ninety-nine cents. That is genius. Someone thought of that.” Except I couldn’t find the video of just that clip on YouTube, which kind of sucks because it would have been perfect.**
Launching a book at .99 and then the use of free giveaways and permafree books was supposed to allow authors to stuff as many e-copies into as many e-readers as possible, with the hope that eventually some of those books would actually be read, and that enough of those books being read would translate to word of mouth and eventually super-stardom. But readers have evolved since 2011. The market has changed. Stuffing free or cheap books on Kindles just-in-case or in the hopes that someone might accidentally read it really stopped being a thing 6 months to a year ago.
So what happened? The market happened.
Too many authors relying on advice and practices that worked well for them a year or two or three ago just kept going back to the same old well. Too many authors, seeing the holes where the gold had been mined, just kept going back into the same old holes trying to find the same old gold that had already been pulled out. Too many authors relied on cheap as the full extent of their marketing plan, and that resulted in a mass assault of authors trying to pass some really bad books to a lot of people, and readers soon realized that there was no hurry – no urgency – in buying a book because it was cheap. If it was a book they didn’t want, then who cares? If it was a book they did want, the price certainly wasn’t going to go up. In fact, odds were it would soon enough be free. Either in a Kindle giveaway period, or because the author would make it permafree. No urgency became no motivation, and eventually, as is always the case, a handful of good cheap books got swallowed up by the flood of horrible books.
So? Hasn’t there always been a tsunami of crap in the world of books? Yes. Even long before the Indie revolution. Most books have been crap since books were invented. But now the crap is being specifically identified by readers (which is good,) and the great books that utilize the same marketing techniques are being dismissed along with the crap. It was a good run, and it was fun while it lasted. I, for one, was not willing to watch the same pattern happen over and over again with my books. Living from promotion day to promotion day, watching my books rocket upward for 24 hours and then sink back into the morass of forgotten books.
Here is a typical snapshot of the pattern for a comparatively successful Indie title:
This is a pattern that almost all Indie authors experience at some level. This sales chart is for a book that has actually done pretty well. But you can see that a one day promotion, though it does produce sales, most often does not develop into the thing authors want most.. a long tail with higher “stickiness.” Some… very few… authors are able to make single day promotions do more than just provide a brute force blip. If they are using the “sell it cheap and Kindle stuff” theory, which prevails today, the tail of each promotion gets steeper and shorter every time.
E-book selling has followed the pattern of $1 stores. At first, when the phenomena of dollar stores really began to skyrocket, you could find some really good bargains at a dollar store. It was worth the time to duck into one and fill up a basket. Then, savvy shoppers figured things out. The store owners were buying cheaper and cheaper merchandise – most of it from China. The products didn’t hold up even to regular use. The items that did have some quality, soon weren’t selling for $1 at all. The prices went up on the good stuff, and the quality of the cheap stuff got worse and worse. You might find something of good quality on sale once in awhile, but the stuff that launches cheap and stays cheap is generally junk.
To me, long-term success in launching and promoting a good book requires satisfied and happy readers. Readers are getting wiser about their purchase decisions (which is awesome!) and that means that they aren’t just buying any crap that someone throws out there with a cover and marks for .99 or even free. And when they do engage in Kindle stuffing, I find that they often never even open those .99 or free books. Once upon a time, if 20k or 50k people paid .99 for your book and stuffed it into a Kindle you could possibly have a hit on your hands, even if not many of those people read it. More bargain hunters would sniff at whatever was moving and they’d stuff that title into their Kindle too. Kindle stuffing begat more Kindle stuffing. The phenomena was multiplied if the book actually turned out to be good and people actually started reading it. It was not uncommon to hear readers say, “This was on my Kindle for 6 months but when I saw that XYZ reviewed it positively, I finally read it.”
Authors began planning their entire launch and marketing program (those that did any planning at all) around Kindle stuffing. I’m in several Facebook author groups and it is shocking how few authors ever talk about book quality, craft, or the challenge of actually getting someone to READ their book. Most of the talk is about Kindle stuffing. How do I get thousands of people to put my book on their Kindle, even if I’m giving it away for free? Tracking free giveaways is common, even if there is more and more evidence that readers have moved on and aren’t reading those books. Authors count a promotion as successful if it produces X amount of downloads in relation to what they paid for the promo. They tell themselves that every book in a Kindle has the potential to be the one that makes them famous, but often they forget that the quality and value of the book must be there in order for that lottery to happen. Authors often say (and I have heard all of these more than you can possibly imagine):
“I can’t afford good editing because I don’t have a successful title that will allow me to pay for it.”
“I can’t afford a good cover until I make enough money from my books to pay for it.”
One guy on a recent author podcast actually bragged about how he put his books out there completely raw and unedited and just used readers to help him improve the book!
This compounds daily… hourly… and readers are reacting to it. Readers may still snatch up some free books now and then, but they almost never read them. Why, because the traditional ways that readers have found good books are reasserting themselves. Referrals. Word of mouth. A search for quality and value. People buy or procure books now because trusted people suggest them. And the books they harvest into Kindles in the old way, they almost never read. Why? Because they just don’t have the time. Why? Because their favorite writers are putting out more books more often, or are suggesting good books that might cost a bit more but usually guarantee a good experience.
This is not to say that .99 is dead. (PLEASE DO NOT SAY THAT MICHAEL BUNKER SAID THAT .99 IS DEAD!) It is saying that buyers are no longer paying .99 for any old thing that floats along, and when they do they almost never read it, and when they do they almost never recommend it, and when they do the process starts over again. The next person almost never reads it.
.99 can work great, if readers believe the book is worth way more than that.
Smart authors are seeking READS now and not just downloads. When I hear authors using the Lexicon of 2011 and 2012 and focusing on their download stats and never talking about craft, book quality, and reader experience, I can pinpoint exactly why they are complaining that their careers are languishing and it seems like they are spinning their wheels.
With the launch of The Pennsylvania Omnibus, I decided to formulate my launch strategy based on what readers want rather than what authors seemed to be focused on. I would focus on craft, quality, and value. I would use a three-stage launch platform that would unfold over eight months, and when I did offer the whole book for only .99 I wanted to insure that readers realized what kind of value they were getting. I want them to READ my book, not just stuff it on a Kindle. I want them to LOVE the book and want to share it. And I want them to ADVOCATE for the book as an example of what is good and right in Indie publishing. That was the root of my plan. So here is a snapshot of a similar promo day and the aftermath using my new, reader-centric strategy:
This strategy has been tried successfully on enough books now that I feel assured that it is superior to the common (2011-2012 based) wisdom.
My friend Tim Grahl and I have been talking about this strategy for many months now. Tim is a book marketing and promotion expert and he’s worked with USA Today and New York Times Bestselling authors galore. We’ve talked about platform building, launch strategies and what does and does not work today. And since the big July 7th promo date for The Pennsylvania Omnibus, dozens of authors have contacted me asking for details, data, and the “how” of how I did it. The problem in communicating what I’ve done is two-fold:
1. Authors usually want the “easy” button. They want a one sentence trick that tells them everything they need to know. Because of this they ignore philosophy and the reality of the changed market and look for gimmicks or tricks.
2. Authors are famous for not wanting to spend money on anything – especially if that “anything” might help them succeed. Although they will throw money at advertising and schemes that are pretty sure NOT to work. See my comments earlier in this post about authors who want to wait until they get rich to pay for editing and nice covers.
So the moment I start telling people what I did and it takes 5 pages of philosophy and data about the market, their eyes glaze over and they stop listening. Or they want me to shut up and put into catch-phrases the “trick” of how they can duplicate my results without any of the understanding or work.
So Tim advised me to place a few hurdles in the way to make sure the people I’m spending my time talking to actually value the information and are willing to listen to what I have to say. Stop wasting time on the get-rich-quick folks and talk to the people who want to learn how to listen to readers and improve their product and system of delivery.
Tim and I have put together a webinar in which we will be sharing our experiences and discussions with a very intentionally small number of authors. Too many will dilute the strategies and those who come by them too cheaply are not likely to implement the foundational ideas that make the strategies successful. So we decided we’d model the webinar after the main strategy. A high quality and high value webinar priced just cheaply enough that serious authors can afford it, and we’d limit the number of people who can participate so that the effectiveness isn’t watered down.
Tim has put together a web page with the details, and a sign-up button. It’s first come first served. We’re limiting the webinar to 100 attendees. Check out the page for all the details. Sometime this week, Tim and I will blast an email out to our combined 9k+ email lists and this open door will close really quickly after that. Before that, I asked Tim to give me some time to try to allow some of my author friends to get their foot in the door. Now is that time.
I hope to see some of you at the webinar!
[author_books amount=”3″ size=”150″ type=”random” name=”michaelbunker”]