All my author friends spend sleepless nights agonizing over one question: how can I best promote my books? Well, Smashwords recently attempted to answer that question through a survey examining what works and what doesn’t in terms of ebook sales. You can read the whole survey on the Smashwords blog, but, as always, I’ve made a helpful list of the most important (to me) points. So, here are the takeaways from the survey:
- A few titles sell really well, and many don’t sell that well. However, a lot of Smashwords authors earn a good income from their books. This agrees with Hugh Howev’s Author Earning surveys.
- It’s important to climb in sales ranks, as this leads to geometrically increased sales. This is what some people sometimes call reaching a critical mass of readers.
- Readers prefer longer books. A few days ago, a reader gave me 4 stars for The Power of Six (a book of some 25,000 words): she complained that she expected a longer book for her 99c, even while enthusing about the book and the writing. I have had similar complaints for Schism, the free introduction to my epic fantasy series Pearseus. And another reader complained that even Rise of the Prince, at 100,000 words, is too brief, as “it would only make four or five episodes should it be turned into a TV series.” Unexpected feedback aside, Smashwords tells us that books with under 50,000 words sell worse than those above that mark*. Accepting human nature and moving on, this contradicts a supposed preference of people for short stories. So, I’m uncertain what this one really means for us.
- The best price for an ebook is between $2.99 and $3.99. Since Amazon changed its pricing policy and only gives 70% for prices over $2.99, this is the best price to earn a decent percentage from your sales. As far as pricing is concerned, this is the conclusion I had reached as well. Anything less than $2.99 is pretty much penalized by Amazon –you get fewer royalties, the difference being significant between $2.99 and anything less than that. Especially if an author has a series, it’s probably best to have the series starter free, while selling the other books for $2.99.
- Free ebooks are still a good way to entice people to try a new author. Smashwords’ survey reveals, however, that the effectiveness of free is decreasing, compared to previous surveys. Use free sparingly and only as part of a whole marketing strategy. You can preferably use free to promote one book, having the rest of your books priced at $2.99 and above. According to the survey, free series starters are doing really well.
- Preorders are what free used to be a few years ago. Take advantage of preorders, because they bring in more sales. To be honest, I haven’t yet used the preorder option, as Amazon doesn’t support it. I think that for my fourth book in the series (I hope to have it ready by the end of the year) I will make a buzz about it a few weeks before, but unless Amazon allows preorders, I don’t see me running one.
- Series books outsell standalone books. This is a point I’ve heard from many different sources, usually combined with the five-book theory (something magical happens once you’ve written the fifth book, and you suddenly turn into an overnight success).
- Non-fiction authors command higher prices. Perhaps it’s time for me to dust off my old thesis and rewrite it?
So here you have it, my conclusions from the Smashwords survey. As always, though, I think that some things are just a question of luck. So, keep your fingers crossed, unless you plan to type your thoughts in the comments’ area! 🙂
* Sadly, books are not written by gnomes at night, while authors sleep. Which means that there is a limit to how much we can write, if we prize quality and want to produce books that are free of typos, misformats or any other mistake.