Mulling results from a Kindle Countdown Deal

One of the principles I follow as an independent publisher is that just about anything is worth trying.

When I first published, I discovered that offering The Awful Mess: A Love Story free through Kindle Select could pay off quite nicely in reviews and in residual sales that at least paid my advertising costs, although it was clearly not the magic bullet that it might once have been for indie publishers.

This time I tried the new Kindle Countdown Deal, supported with notices at affordable Awesome Romance Novels, free eReader Cafe, and (most expensively) at BookGorilla, as well as a notice at eBookSoda, which was thankfully free since I screwed that one up. (Turns out you have to do a separate Kindle Countdown Deal in the UK, and I didn’t realize that. And since eBookSoda is based in the UK, they went with my non-sale pricing.)

I would most certainly have used BookBub if I could have, but it wasn’t available to me (titles can only be there once every six months). I suspect my ranking would have been higher with it. Then again, it stayed so consistent throughout the promotion that it might be that I simply hit my title’s natural “level” and stayed there as long as Amazon’s promotion was in effect.

But even the first day, at 99 cents and with limited exposure, my book shot up in sales. It ranged between 1,800 to 2,500 in the Kindle store, which kept me on the first page of the bestseller lists for literary humor, literary romance, and women’s fiction humor.

This goes to show the importance of having useful key words, by the way. If you look at the shot on the right, you see that my book got highlighted as a hot new release in literature and fiction>humor and satire>humor — which helped drive further sales, I’m sure. (Mind you, the fact that I’m a “hot new release” was probably accidentally abetted by my new cover, which I didn’t realize would give this edition a new release date.) If my only key word had been romance (and no literary), I might not have shown up anywhere.

080078Changing a couple of keywords at mid-course didn’t seem to have any impact, though. (I switched from “divorce” to “dating and relationships” and from “New Hampshire” to “United States.”)

It’s also interesting to me that the “Love Story” in my subtitle no longer generates inclusion in searches for love stories. Perhaps Amazon got tired of all the keywords showing up in  titles and subtitles and has changed its algorithms to avoid rewarding that.

I had planned to do more, but the week with my parents in Florida had not allowed as much engagement with anything online as I’d hoped, and then I came down with a miserable cold, or perhaps the flu-shot version of the flu, and ended up barely functioning  for most of my countdown week.

A more prepared person certainly would have dovetailed more promotions into the middle and end of this deal to keep sales coasting along longer. They dropped off very fast at the conclusion of the deal; I’m seeing minimal residual sales now.

But I really can’t complain. It worked well while it was working. Amazon provides a pretty neat report on this strategy, too. Their useful report tells me I sold over 500 copies in my sale week, up from only a few the week before. (Beyond that, I also had a number of borrows.)

Although the book sales rate was about even, the income was much higher at the end for the 71 hours I was at $1.99, versus the earlier 96 hours at 99 cents. And I didn’t promote the second tier with any external marketing, so I have to assume that was primarily due to Amazon’s own Kindle Countdown Deal promoting, though I suppose my occasional tweets and kindly retweets from GreatBooksGreatDeals and Awesome Romance Novels (as well as fellow authors) might have helped.

Would it have worked as well if I’d gone out with $1.99 as my first sale price? I doubt it, but it’s impossible to know without testing.

It could be that the recent book giveaway I ran on Goodreads helped in some way, too, though I can’t say it helped to any great degree with book sales in its immediate aftermath. I did revise my giveaway ad there to support the Countdown Deal and got a few clicks. (Apparently the lifetime .05% click-through rate on my ads over there is considered good, but I can’t say I see that as driving any particular trend.)

One temptation from all this is to assume that dropping the price to $1.99 would make sense. Amazon of course prevents this by not allowing anyone to drop the price for 14 days after a Countdown Deal. But I’m also doubtful that it would help a lot. First of all, I’d be earning at a lower royalty rate (and maintaining your regular royalty rate is part of what makes Countdown Deals appealing). Second, I’ve tried lower pricing and haven’t really seen much pop from it. In fact, 99-cent pricing actually seemed to depress sales. Then again, I seem to do best in the humor and literary fiction categories, where price may signal something it doesn’t in, say, the romance category.

It might be worth trying $2.99, though.

I had been planning to leave Kindle Select at the end of my current enrollment period so I could get out to the other sites. Now I’m not so sure. I don’t expect to have my next title ready until summer, and I suspect that another round of a Countdown Deal, this time supported by BookBub, would be worth trying.

Other questions I’m currently mulling:

  • Should I enter the book in the Amazon Breakthrough Awards? It feels a little ass-backwards when I’ve already sold 1200 copies or so (not to mention given away 50,000). I particularly question this since the wording of the contest rules suggests I should enter the PG13 version rather than the one with the two sex scenes in it.
  • Should I just drop that PG13 edition? People looking for my book by my name or the book title often end up there, for some reason. It’s confusing, and confusion is not your friend when you’re trying to sell something. On the other hand, I’m also worried about what happens to the book purchased by the rare souls who have purchased the PG13 edition. Will it disappear from their Kindles?
  • What’s the best next move? Come out with an anthology of short stories I’m willing to sell super cheap (Missionary Dating and Other Not Terribly Literary Stories), or come out with the next novel? Or should I try another round with literary agents, now that I’ve established a little credibility out in the marketplace?

Who the heck knows? Meanwhile, I’m also busy trying to sell this house. So … life is full.

Feel free to offer your advice, and share any thoughts or experiences you might have had with Kindle Countdown Deals.

How Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings found her groove

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, failed romance writer?

One of the most pleasant days of my recent week-long visit with my parents in Florida (I’m from the Tampa Bay area originally), was a visit to the old farm house and orange grove where Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings wrote her classics The Yearling, Cross Creek, and more.

According to the excellent guide who took us through the house, Rawling and her husband, both would-be novelists, had decided to ditch their dead-end newspaper jobs up north and try their hand at oranges and fiction.

Their timing was terrible. They had a mortgage, and shortly after their arrival the Great Depression hit and devalued their investment immediately (and apparently also killed the market for romance novels — which I find hard to believe from today’s perspective).

Our guide suggested that Mr. Rawlings couldn’t stand the competition with his more talented wife and cleared out, leaving her stranded on a farm in the middle of the Florida scrub.

Rawlings set out to learn how to survive from her neighbors, and wrote a short piece about them that got her noticed by an editor up north. He pushed her to do more in that direction, and the eventual result was The Yearling, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1939.

When I was moved from Tampa’s Dunbar Sixth Grade Center to Clearwater’s Palmetto Elementary in the sixth grade, Mrs. Ellis was reading The Yearling aloud to my raptly attentive home room, which may be part of the reason I didn’t read it again until just last year.

When I finally took it up on my own I initially found it a bit stylistically flat, with a repetitive rhythm of simple declarative sentences — ideal for a children’s book, perhaps — but then I quickly got wrapped up in the tale of a small, emotionally fraught family trying to survive by their wits in the middle of the Florida wilderness. As a gardener and a cook, I was particularly fascinated by their plantings and preservation techniques (from today’s perspective it’s hard to believe they survived eating meat potted in fat and stored under the house without refrigeration).

I can understand how Rawlings and Zora Neale Hurston became friends despite the formidable racial barriers of that era, because they clearly shared a similar interest in anthropology and a similar appetite for adventure. (Their Eyes Were Watching God is another novel of Florida that captures a way of life that has since disappeared.)

Both Rawlings and Hurston brought keen outsider’s eyes to their subject, which makes me wonder how often writers are born from — or at least shaped by — that essential injury of being transplanted to a strange new world.

This is certainly the case with me — so far I have always written about the Northeast, after having been moved there (kicking and screaming) at the age of sixteen. I suppose if I ever move back, I might be able to bring the same observer’s eye to my home state, but I am not in any hurry to do so. (Sorry, Mom and Dad.)

Anyway, it was interesting to see how a change of venue — and an open mind towards her new environs — led to astonishing success for Rawlings, especially when The Yearling was made into a popular movie. (Whoever designed that movie poster had clearly never been to Florida, which has no mountains.)

It was also interesting to hear that Rawlings’ pronounced her maiden name KinAWN. That was news to me.

We had to leave our tour without exploring the grounds because we were meeting friends of my parents at the nearby The Yearling Restaurant. It was a fitting end to the adventure, for we shared fried gator, frog legs, and green tomatoes as an appetizer, while Willie Green played blues in the background.

(For the record: Yes, gator tastes like chicken — chicken with the texture of lawn chair mesh. Frog legs also taste like chicken, but the texture is much better. Seems like quite a waste of frog, though.)

If you can’t make it there yourself, I hope you’ll enjoy this tour of the house:

“Kindle Countdown Deal” today through the 21st

We’re trying this one out, without much expectation, because I just haven’t had time to set up the associated marketing required to make anything work.

Update: Apparently we did enough after all, since it’s doing pretty well. Yay. Knock wood…

The e-book may never be cheaper than it is through Saturday, though, so tell your friends: The Awful Mess: A Love Story is only 99 cents (and 77 pence or so) (not sure why, but the Kindle Countdown Deal pricing is not hitting the UK) right now.

Sunday through Tuesday it will be $1.99. After that it’s back to its regular $3.99.

NOTE: I believe this special pricing only works in the US and UK.