As some of you already know, back on December 27th, I released a sample of my first short story collection A Long Way from Disney on Amazon’s Kindle store and used social media strategies to market it. I did this for various reasons, but mainly because, as I said here on Open Culture before, I believe authors need to take on the roll of scientists and experiment with what’s possible in today’s publishing world. (If you're interested in how I publicized this, see my recent posts at AuthorBootCamp.com.)
From a scientific point of view, the experiment was a great success. I learned a great deal, which I’ll discuss below. I sold a lot of books (at $.99 each): around 350 in the first week, and I got my name and stories in front of a lot of new people. I also heard from a number of them who read the book right away and really loved it! For you authors out there, I hope you can relate: Getting positive feedback on your work from total strangers is about the best feedback there is.
[For those of you keeping score at home, those sales put $260 into Amazon’s pockets and $140 into mine. Not too shabby, I don’t think, but also not the split an author might hope for.]
Okay, without any further delay: Here are the Results (What I’ve learned) from Experiment 1:
1) Timing can be essential. I positioned myself to hit the Kindle store just after Xmas, thinking that with many newly gifted Kindles out there, a lot more Kindle ebooks would be selling and that I could cash in on this rush. I was correct in this prediction (Amazon sold more ebooks than paper copies over Christmas), but what I didn’t predict was how much harder this made it to reach the Top 100 Kindle bestseller list, a goal I had set for myself. I wanted to hit the top 100 because it would give the book additional exposure and stimulate more buying from newbie Kindle owners looking for quick, cheap content.
Ultimately, I think choosing this time right after Xmas might have helped me sell a few more books. But by not hitting the top 100 list, I missed a critical chance to attract more attention on the Kindle store. As author Rob Kroese posted on an Amazon Kindle Discussion board, he was able to hit 300 in books on the Kindle bestseller list prior to the holidays by selling 30 copies a day. During the holidays, he sold 60 copies per day and couldn’t crack the top 500. I should mention that the highest ranking I got on Kindle Bestsellers was #250, which in retrospect was a great achievement, even if it came short of my goal.
On that note, I also hit #4 in Short Stories, #16 in Literary Fiction and #40 overall in Fiction.
Would I have been able to reach my goal of the top 100 at another time? I’m not so sure.
2) Making the Kindle Top 100 list is actually pretty hard for an independent author. Initially I figured, how many copies of these books can they be selling? Well, I learned that in actuality the answer can be quite high. A lot of the books on the Top 100 list are actually FREE! The Kindle store includes many classics in the public domain—for example, Sherlock Holmes, Pride and Prejudice, Treasure Island, Little Women, etc. And whenever someone downloads these free texts, Amazon counts it as a sale. It's hard to compete against FREE. And, for this reason, the bestselling ebooks list can be harder climb than the paper version. (Back in March 08, I made #45 overall in books on Amazon when I tried a similar experiment with a print on demand publisher and my first novel, Jack Wakes Up.)
3) Free isn’t for Everyone. So why shouldn’t I set the price of my book at FREE—the web’s new magic price, according to Chris Anderson—as I’ve done with audio podcast versions of all my fiction at my site and on iTunes? Well, because Amazon’s Digital Text Platform (how you put your book up on Kindle) won’t let me. That’s right, as an independent posting content to the Kindle store, the lowest I can go in price is $.99. It’s true. So who’s posting these freebies on the Kindle store? Publishers. Including, you guessed it, "Public Domain Books."
There's no sour grapes here. I hope no one will misread any of these statements as that. But there are some interesting lessons learned. Would I have made the top 100 if I had put my book up at a less busy book-selling time? Who knows. But if Rob Kroese can hit #300 by selling 30 books in a day, I probably would’ve had a good shot when I sold close to 200 copies on just the first day. I’ll just have to try another experiment at some point to find out.
When I do, I’ll also capitalize on one more thing I learned in this experiment about actual buying on the Kindle platform:
4) Non-Kindle-owners need education if you want them to buy. Not too many people have a Kindle out there, but any Kindle book can be purchased on a PC or an Phone/Touch. This means that a great many people can actually buy a Kindle book, but many of them will need to be educated about how they can do this—something that I tried to enable, but could’ve done far better with in retrospect.
So how did I do? As a writer, the biggest success of this experiment was getting my fiction into more people’s hands and hearing strong feedback from them. As for my writing career and how to proceed with publishing experiments going forward, I really learned a great deal. I hope you found it helpful. To talk more about this with me, please comment on either of my writing/publishing websites: sethharwood.com or authorbootcamp.com, or hit me up on Twitter (@sethharwood) or Facebook.
What am I doing next? Going cross-platform with this experiment—taking the Kindle version of A Long Way from Disney and bringing it to Smashwords (Sony reader and others), Mobipocket (Blackberry) and the iTunes store as an App to enable the content to be read on even more devices! I’ll be back to talk about how that all goes soon!