The only thing consistent is change. Even if you’ve been a published author for even a few months, you’ve probably learned that the best ways to reach readers continues to change and evolve, moving with the shifts in algorithms, developments in marketing platforms, and as new tools are made available to authors.
I’ve taken a long hiatus from blogging about marketing, mostly because my writing schedule and family have kept me too busy for anything else. I’ve also been growing a small publishing company (Wild Heart Books, specializing in Christian historical romance, the genre I write, love, and know best).
But though I haven’t been posting about my marketing efforts on this blog lately, I’ve been working hard marketing my own books and others. And I’ve been longing to share with you some of the things I’ve learned!
Let’s start with what’s working best for me now. The list below is in addition to my newsletter and launch team. I’ve blogged about those two tools in the past, and they’ll always be a significant help in spreading the word about my books.
These are not necessarily listed in order of importance, but all of them work together as I continue to broaden my platform to reach readers and develop new income streams. As well as deepening my backlist to allow for more promotion opportunities.
Don’t let the details overwhelm you! My goal in sharing what’s working for me now is to show you the bigger picture of which strategies are working. Choose one or two tools to try or goals to work toward. Be encouraged!
Let’s get started!
Regular and Frequent Releases
For the past several years, my goal has been four releases per year: three books I indie publish, and one book is traditionally published through Bethany House Publishers. My goal through both publishing models is to broaden the reach of the other. My indie titles help grow my Bethany House readership, and vice versa. This diversification is part of one of my core career strategies, which I’ll talk about more in future weeks.
Writing and releasing four books per year might seem like an impossible task to some. I’ll admit it’s a challenge, even though I write full time. It was even harder back when I was doing it while also working a 50+ hour/week day job and raising kiddos.
But there are multiple reasons why I stretch myself to accomplish this.
The reason regular releases are so critical is because of Amazon’s visibility algorithms. Their system is programmed to give visibility to new products, so they push a product more in its first 30 days. Between 60 – 90 days, they still give that product visibility, though not as much. We call these the 30-day cliff and the 90-day cliff, and I’ve seen them happen with every one of my releases.
Also, every new book in a series tends to bring readers to the other books in the series (because of other things I’ll mention in a minute). If I can keep releasing a new book in a series around the time the last book falls off its 90-day cliff, I keep the whole series lifted continuously.
Releasing a book every 90 days has become a sweet spot for me with my writing speed, especially since I’ve begun using dictation to write my first drafts. Authors who release more often than this are doing even better and not spending as many ad dollars, but in the past I’ve not been able to do it consistently and still have a life. Authors who don’t release a book every three months will see more peaks and valleys in their book sales, and it’s harder to get the momentum moving with a series so that each book’s sales numbers continue to grow over the last one.
Combination of Kindle Unlimited and Wide
For some indie authors, the KDP Select program, which places your books in the Kindle Unlimited library, can be very lucrative. For others, not as much. I’ve found my sweet spot using a combination of the two choices. When I use pay-per-click advertising (which I’ll talk about a few paragraphs down), the return on investment is substantially higher when books are in the Kindle Unlimited library. However, Amazon doesn’t allow ebooks in that program to be available on any other ebook retailer.
I do have a number of readers who use non-Amazon ebook retailers, and I want to keep those readers happy. To do this, I release every new book to all ebook retailers (also known as “wide”) for at least a month after release. Then, I’ll usually take it off the other retailers and move that book into Amazon’s KDP Select program. Most of my backlist stays in the KDP Select program (where they earn more money), except for one older four-book series. That allows me to use book 1 in that series as the ebook I give away to newsletter subscribers (which is also not allowed for books in the Select program).
Release Week Sales
I do a full launch for each new book, working for a significant number of book sales during the first week of release. If I can get good sustained sales numbers on Amazon for 4-5 consecutive days (about 100 sales a day is best), it kicks the popularity algorithm into action and Amazon will give the book much better visibility for those next 30 – 90 days. The book really sells itself at that point.
This is one of the reasons I prefer to release ebooks at a lower price point than full retail. I want to capture all the impulse buys and create scarcity during the preorder and release week, so people will grab the book then instead of putting it off. I really push the book’s price deal during release week (using everything I can—paid ads like BookBub’s Featured New Release, newsletter ads, a blog tour, newsletter swaps, etc.) to get strong sales for 4-5 days straight. Then I can step back and let Amazon’s recommendation system take over for a while.
Writing in Long Series
With a good series, the books should get easier and easier to sell with each book, especially if I’m releasing regularly and have solid back matter to lead readers to the next book.
What should be in that back matter? I like to have the first chapter, book cover, and preorder links for the next book in the series. If at all possible, I want these to be in place when the current book releases. That’s a really helpful way to increase preorder sales for each book as you progress through the series.
When I have several books released in the series, I can begin running more ads to book 1. Since read-through is where I make my money, the longer the series the better.
I’ve found that having two smaller spin-off series does NOT work as well as combining them into a long series. The break gives readers a chance to stop and read a new book that just came out, or whatever else is in line, and they forget to come back to my other series. Most of my readers tend to binge-read my series, and that’s the kind of person I’m really looking for. ☺️
I realized a couple of years ago that Amazon was moving toward a pay-to-play game. At the time, they were moving away from “Also boughts” on many product pages, giving that real estate to Amazon’s CPC ads. I knew several indies at the time who were making $20 – $30k a month primarily with Amazon ads, so I really studied what they were doing and took every course I could from them. I found some seed money and determined to do the same with mine.
It was a VERY long process, and it wasn’t until I combined two spin-off series into one long series and put all those books in the Kindle Unlimited program that I really began making headway. That was over a year ago. The increase from that point was slow but steady, and new releases always give a push to all the books. Getting the Amazon ads to be profitable and scale up felt a bit like bootstrapping at first, but then the books reach a level where the algorithm kicks in and Amazon starts helping with visibility.
Currently, my twelve book series that I’m primarily advertising are by far my bestsellers and earn about 80% of my income. It’s great, because they’re all purely backlist, with the last book in that series released in June 2019. My newest indie series has three books out now (with three more on pre-order), so I’ve just started CPC ads for book one there. I plan to do the same advertising with this series.
Strategic Sales with Newsletter Ads
I also try to do a BookBub Featured Deal every three months or so, which helps give a bump to everything, especially in a series with new releases. I like to be strategic about running those to boost pre-orders for a new release. When possible, I use a Kindle Countdown Deal to discount the book for the ad, as that gives a higher royalty rate than just lowering the list price. The downside is that the KCD can only be done in the US and UK currently.
So there you have it! As I mentioned, all of these tools or strategies may not work for you. Choose those that are within reach and set a goal for what you want to accomplish, then take action!