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.
nice tips about smashwords. When my book was free on the site I had quite a number of downolads,yet since pricing them, nothing, no movement at all.My next step in advertising is to try and offer a bundle. Hoping that will help.
That’s great info to have; thank you for sharing!
Thanks for this helpful post! I was surprised by the finding that people prefer longer books – I would expect people to be more hesitant when buying a longer book, especially if it’s written by an author that they’re not too familiar with. It’s good to know that free series starters are still an effective marketing strategy, as this is a strategy that I’m planning on using.
Also, I love that picture of the gnome, haha!
Lol – thanks 🙂
I take these findings to mean that enough people like longer works to make it worthwhile, as I keep reading other surveys that claim it’s shorter works that sell well nowadays (as in novellas and anthologies). My understanding is that there’s a market for both… 🙂
Reblogged this on Everything Indie.
Great informative post for someone (me!) who has just released their debut novel. Joanna Penn recommends sticking with Amazon for a first book as a good place to become established (hopefully, that is) and then branch out to other platforms with later books.
I’m finding the whole marketing & promo exercise feels not like the adventure one post advocated writers view it as, but as a great big hustle that’s part and parcel of being an writerpreneur!
Thank you, I’m so glad you found the post useful! 🙂
Marketing can be a drag, but only if you focus on hard selling. I’ve chosen to focus on making new friends, so it’s rather fun. My advice: drop the aspect you find least enjoyable, as your frustration will show through. Instead, concentrate on those parts you enjoy (in my case, blogging).
As a reader I love to get engrossed in a delicious read but I find the thicker than thick books (over 400 or so pages) tend to go to fat, boring, unnecessary information. Books like novellas, sometime need a little more real fat. It’s hard to say. I’m buy and read what interests me.
True. I can’t think of a rule for myself, either. I enjoy everything, from flash fiction (under 300 words) to Martin’s or Tolkien’s epic works.
Fantastic info, Nicholas – thank you for sharing this with us!!! The golden nugget for me is the part about readers preferring longer books. Greatly appreciate this information. xoxo 🙂
A pleasure! Thanks for the visit and sweet (as always!) comment! 🙂
Great advice. I will keep these in mind as I get ready to publish . . . hopefully by January.
Wow, that’s so exciting! Congrats and best of luck with the launch! If you want me to post a launch post here, just let me know when the time comes! 🙂
Thank you. I think I will. I was just about to start asking around with some of my fellow bloggers who would be interested in letting me share.
I actually feature an author each month on my blog. If you are interested send me an e-mail: email@example.com and I will send some questions.
Great insight. I think caution is the watchword here. Let me take a quote from the original survey: “Most of the survey results are based on averages. Your book is not average. It’s unique. Therefore, your results will vary. The findings aggregate the results of many dissimilar books, which means the findings are prone to misinterpretation and error. ” In the final analysis, getting your books across several platforms (not only Amazon) is the way to go.
Absolutely, which is why I often say that all “tips” should be considered guidelines, not rules. Also, as Lorelei pointed out, a lot of this is genre-specific.
If you have an experience you’d like to share on moving from KDP Select to other outlets, I’d love to hear about it. Perhaps a guest post? 🙂
I was intrigued by this survey too. After thinking I’d been flying in the face of commonsense it transpires I’m doing exactly the right thing. Definitely a bit of a turn up for the books that one!
You’re just ahead of everyone else, that’s all! 🙂
Mwah hahaahrgh! I wish. 😉
Thanks so much, Nicholas!
A pleasure, I hope you found it useful! 🙂
My books ought to sell like hotcakes, because they are all long! That’s why I broke the Ki’shto’ba series up into six volumes instead of three humongous ones, and why I turned The Termite Queen into a 2-volume novel. When I was writing my books, my best friend told me that nobody was going to buy my books because people have such short attention spans these days, and I tend to agree with her. I think my books don’t sell better because I don’t write for the casual reader. My books require some commitment, not just of time but of mental energy.
That’s always a sacrifice we make when we choose to write something that appeals to us, instead of the average reader. For example, I write fantasy and sci-fi, although I’m only too aware of the fact that the best-selling genres are romance and mystery. Nevertheless, I hope someday to make a living out of it. Delusional, or what? 😀
A friend of mine has an arbitrary file-size limit that if an ebook crosses over, she will not buy it or download it even if it’s free. Regarding the survey results, I wonder if the word-count issue is genre specific? Erotic romance seems to do best as short stories, though there are plenty of bigger books out there too and are doing well. Also, they say freebies do well, but downloads don’t automatically equal reads. I have approximately 200 freebies in my Kindle app that I most likely will never have time to read (or to review), but they were free, so I downloaded them. I’d rather have readers than simply downloaders. Maybe I’m alone in that, since downloads must help rankings and that can help attract readers. It’s all very confusing.
Hi Lorelei, thanks for visiting and commenting. Those are very good points! I have found there are huge differences among the various genres, and “rules” that apply to some have no impact on others. As for the TBR list, I, too, bite far more than I can chew…
Just putting my books on Smashwords this week – Be interesting to see how things go – I have my own selling site as well and they are all on Amazon so can compare the three options after marketing them all in the next few weeks. Thanks for the information – useful.
Hi and welcome! I’d love to hear how that impacts on your sales. If you’re interested in writing guest post on that, just let me know! 🙂
Thanks Nicholas – certainly will come back to you in a few weeks time – kind of you to ask.
Excellent, I’m looking forward to that! 🙂
I totally agree with Jack Eason take on the subject of length. I like to read long, and short, and medium.
I have a catholic taste and I cannot think of a genre I will not read, including ones I don’t normally read, if I have a connection with the author. I have found excellent stories, so far, in all.
As to the ones who do not like a story because of length or topic, why buy it or take it if free, if it does not fit your criteria. To give a lousy review?
Life is too short to not preview before plunging into a plot, knowing you will finish it.
As for writing, I am more of a short story author, but it all works out because most are stories for children. Write to your audience what you, yourself, want to read or are comfortable in writing. If you bore yourself…. Well, enough said.
Welcome and thanks for the comment! That’s a great point. I, too, love both short stories (I have read all five tomes of Philip K. Dick’s short stories, and they have had a great impact on my writing) and epics (eg Song of fire and ice). Which probably explains why I love writing everything from flash fiction to epic series!
Great post. It is so difficult for us to predict best pricing, length on writing and distribution choices. There will always be two sides to the coin. Many readers are liking to read shorter books was the buzz not too long ago No, we are not gnomes. I write from the heart. I dedicate time or word count at least 5 days a week. I have a life. I am not a machine and nobody wants crap writing put out in a hurry. When the book is succinct and ends when it needs to end is how many words my book will be. If we build a following of readers who enjoy our work, I don’t feel we should be criticized for word count. If they enjoy our work it is only because they want more. And so we write! I am a nonfiction writer so I won’t add filler and fluff to my truth to satisfy a page count. 🙂
“When the book… ends when it needs to end is how many words my book will be” – I love that! Couldn’t have put it better myself! 🙂
Reblogged this on Have We Had Help? and commented:
It doesn’t matter what length your book is if it simply fails to appeal Nicholas. What really works irrispective of where any of your books are in the ‘Rankings’, which are so transient that they change on a daily basis, is to put a book out there that really captures the imagination, no matter the genre.
Once you have that, folk will always buy your other books, simply because of your writing style. That’s how i broke through the invisible wall back in 2012 to become a successful mid lister, enjoying steady sales. Am I rich? No. Am I happy? Yes. Are the trolls happy that I am successful – emphatically no! 😉
Of course the fact that it took me twenty years to break through that invisible wall is neither here nor there Nicholas. 😉
Lol – absolutely!
You are right, of course. I often say that these “tips” should only be viewed as guidelines, not rules, and you just offered a great example of why that is.
I, too, agonize primarily over the quality of my books; not my marketing “tricks”. Of course, seeing certain literally successes (from a financial point of view, anyway) makes me wonder whether that’s wise! 😀
“Literally” successes or “literary” successes? I know, I’m a Nazi about spelling, despite making typos myself.
Lol – Literary is the right one, of course. Damn my sleeping fingers! 😀
Lol. Don’t forget the 20-20-20 rule to avoid eye strain, avoid using the computer before bed because the blue light will make you more wakeful, use an ergonomic chair and keyboard, and stretch every so often, including your hands and fingers! (Of course, I don’t take my own advice!) 😀
Great advice, and one I should follow some day… 🙂 I’ve also bought a pair of glasses that reduce the screen glare. Can’t tell you exactly what they do, but they make working on the computer so much easier!
Some good information here. As for the 5 book threshold, I would never compare my one published novel to To Kill a Mockingbird, but I would rather be Harper Lee with that fine work under my belt than most other multi-book authors. There are exceptions to this just made up ambition, of course. Steinbeck, Chandler, many orhers. But still, Harper Lee has always fascinated me…
Welcome and thanks for the comment! You’re absolutely right. Of course, if you’re a first rate author, I guess you don’t need to worry about marketing.
Of course, if first-rate authors include Shakespeare, Steinbeck and Hemingway, and second rate authors are successes like Hugh Howey, I consider myself a third-rate author, struggling to rise to second-rate. Which means that I’m aiming at a 5-book minimum for Pearseus. 😉
I, too, have always felt that To Kill a Mocking Bird is an amazing, nearly perfect novel. I reread it every so often, which I rarely do with fiction titles. I wonder if the publication of Go Set a Watchmen will change people’s perception of Harper Lee as an author. Having a reputation as the author of one masterpiece doesn’t sound so bad to me, but I worry that her second publication, although written before To Kill a Mockingbird and featuring Scout as an adult, will disappoint fans. Those of us who love the endearing character may be disenchanted by the adult version of her. Rumours abound as to why Lee is publishing this manuscript now, but if fans of To Kill a Mockingbird are like me, they will be curious enough to read it!
I know, that was quite the shocker, wasn’t it? Although it has created at least one hilarious meme:
Oh no! I’m getting ready to release a short story. I guess I better lower my expectations. 🙂
Thanks for doing the research, Nicholas! I recall reading a book by David Gaughran that supports what you say about non-fiction commanding higher prices (the name of the book escapes me, but I *think* it’s “Let’s Get Digital: How To Self-Publish And Why You Should”. The issue is one of “perceived value”. People who shop for non-fiction feel as if they get more value than shopping for fiction, because they often learn a tangible skill from the book.
The interesting thing about non-fiction is that there are universities with libraries that will buy anything relevant to their field. I have this friend who wrote a rather academic book in linguistics. It sells for $190 (that’s right, no comma). Her publisher is asking that because they know there are faculties that simply *have* to have it, as it is a rather specialized book in its area. So, even if she sells a hundred of them, she will still make more than if she had sold thousands of 99c ones.
Reblogged this on Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog….. An Author Promotions Enterprise!.
Thanks for taking the time to distill the essence of the Smashwords survey results. It’s interesting to know what they found out.
On the other hand, without knowing more the information holds limited value. Since the data is “aggregated retail and library sales data of Smashwords books” the first question that comes to my mind is what percent of overall sales is that? And, what percent of ebooks?
You’re right; as Churchill famously said, “there’s lies, blood lies and statistics.” As I often say, all “tips” should only be viewed as guidelines, not rules. They’re mainly useful as an indication of market trends.
An eye opener Nicholas – thanks for sharing. I am particularly concerned about the power of FREE diminishing these days. I am sure we will reinvent ourselves and adjust somehow in the long run, in order to survive. Expanding across all stores rather than sticking with just Amazon may be a one way road…..
As I was just telling Terri, I took a couple of my books off KDP Select last week, and am waiting for the trimester to end (early August) so I can distribute them to other outlets, as well. I’ll let you know how that goes! 🙂
What made me make the decision was reading that Amazon has some 20% of the ebook market. Which means I’ve been neglecting 80% of my potential customers…
That’s an interesting tidbit… is the 80% fragmented among the rest of the sellers? what’s the source of the 20% of the ebook market, if you don’t mind sharing?
Not at all, it’s just that it was in a Greek newspaper (this week’s Kathimerini ran an Amazon special), so I don’t have any links!
Reblogged. Please tell me that your “5” was supposed to have been a “3” regarding what book in a series is the critical one? Everywhere else says “3.”
Reblogged this on Sally Ember, Ed.D. and commented:
Thanks, Nicholas, for doing the “heavy lifting” and summarizing the Smashwords’ Survey results, here. Question: until today, I read many places that it’s after Book 3 in a series that authors can expect to do better/become more “visible.”
Today, you said Book 5 and I want to tear out my hair (I’m halfway done with Book 3 and have done everything else on that survey already and correctly).
Tell me that “5” was a typo???? Please????
Best to you. Sally
Lol – sorry to disappoint you! Maybe 5 is the new 3, but all the posts I’ve read recently agree that after 5 books something magical happens. Of course, by the time I’ve finished the 5th in Pearseus, I’ll bet that number has risen to a couple of dozens… 🙁
Terrific post! Great insights and very helpful to me. I still haven’t stepped out from Amazon’s bounds, so I’m not sure if that’s a mistake or not, but man this is a long, steep haul. Trying to get sales is hard as a writer. Trying to stand out from the crowd. Trying to just make a name for yourself and your work. Whew! NOT for the faint-hearted. If there was a magic pill or bullet, or an easy do-this-then-do-this kind of outline, we’d all be making a full-time living. Alas, that’s not the case.
Same here. I took q couple of my books off KDP Select last week, and am waiting for the trimester to end (early August) so I can distribute them to other outlets, as well.
As I often say, it’s a marathon, not a sprint (of course, since I live right next to Marathon Bay and my books are peppered with references to that, my tongue is firmly in my cheek when I say that) 😀
Lol gotta love a writer who knows their platform.
Reblogged this on Terri Herman-Ponce and commented:
Fabulous post for you writers out there. Nicholas takes the important points of Smashwords’s survey and makes them really hit home.
I guess I’m an atypical reader; I’m reluctant to pick up a long book. If I like the first book, I’ll read a 20 book series (as long as each book has some sort of ending, not ‘and now on to the next book’), but if I don’t know the author I’ll never open a 600 page book.
An excellent point. Which is why I like the concept of giving away the first book in a series for free – and why that should be a novelette rather than an entire novel. Thanks for visiting, as you know I’m a big fan of your blog, planetarydefensecommand.wordpress.com ! 🙂
That length one is interesting. Back when I started, another author told me that my books were too long for ebooks. It was suggested I chop them into ‘more manageable’ pieces of 50,000-75,000 words. I’ve heard this mentality a few times since from other authors. Yet it seems readers want more for their money. Maybe the shorter works are being suggested by authors due to them having a faster release rate.
I often say that these “tips” should only be viewed as guidelines, not rules. As jack points out, the main thing is to produce quality material, not to count words. 🙂
This is why I don’t pay attention to word count. Seems restrictive to me. 🙂