Wednesday, October 16, 2013

What makes an indie book sell?

I'll admit flat out that I'm an indie writer. Sometimes it works well, sometimes it doesn't--when I fail, I fail badly. ES was a quick and easy lesson in accepting help because even when you think you've got it down, you've got blind spots. Not sure if there's a technical term for it, but I saw "good" when I should have seen "typo". It's much easier when you've got some distance. And much, much easier when it belongs to someone else.

I have a couple of eroticas and as eroticas go, I like to think they're fairly good. The covers are decent mid-grade stuff. The blurbs are kickin' and they're not outrageously priced. However, I'm slow and social media is not my friend. They sell though, and because they sell I've been wondering about the other side of indie work--what happens when you're a good writer, but you're slow or just throw something out there as an experiment? Everyone knows a "productive" writer makes money, but what about those people with singles or maybe a handful of work out in the indie market? What makes one author sell more copies?

Yesterday, I read something where someone I knew was talking about only selling five copies in two years.  After I strangled down my urge to help I went to check it out. There's a little bit of head-hopping, but the heat level is off the scale and it's not bad enough to be a barrier to sales. The cover is pretty much on the same level as mine, and the blurb is good and strong. I know the writer is a social media whiz, and she has lots of friends to push her story.

It made me think about another writer who started out strong and crashed. She's only got one story out, but the blurb is good, the writing is excellent, and she had the cash to order bespoke cover art that isn't just kickin', but off the Richter scale. Social media is also not her friend. However the first book is 2.99 and the second is .99, which to me--accounts for the huge spike in sales out of the gate and the big drop.

People were willing to put down their dollar for a great cover, but despite the writing itself--didn't continue to buy, and I suspect it's a trends and targeting issue.

The first story is a f/f, and for the life of me, I don't know exactly "what" prevents people from buying f/f stories, but I suspect whatever it is also makes "m/m" sales skyrocket. Maybe it's a fantasy thing? Most buyers (I'm making a generalization) are female, and just on my own gut feeling as a heterosexual, I'm not big into reading two women getting it on, but the man-thing is kind of interesting. I've often wondered if it's a bigger, more complex problem--sort of like how straight guys rarely read m/m but are all about watching f/f video. Maybe--it's simply a market issue? Where the bigger market isn't a receptive audience and the right audience simply doesn't read, which circles around to the second book.

It truly is an excellent book. Although it started out slow, it drew me in and that's rare nowadays. Too much mind noise equals a low attention span.

I suspect...because of the way the subject matter is handled, going for the highest instead of the lowest denominator, market share is simply small and the kind of person who would enjoy it isn't the kind of person who'd tell their friends they enjoyed a BSDM awakening story.

Which circles around to book number three. I've been watching book three for a few years since I got the first one as a freebie and enjoyed it. Book two came out last year and I also enjoyed it. The covers are not graphic--more in the nature of a hearts and roses pink filter. The blurbs are so-so. Rank has been climbing. Something obvious from the fact that I only check in on it every now and again. There are literally millions of books on Amazon, and I'm always interested when something climbs from zero-gazillionth to a 200k ranking. It's not extraordinarily high, but it "is" selling steadily unlike books in the 2M range.

Strangely enough, it's a f/f book--but it's not a generic f/f book. It's so highly specialized you need to be a certain kind of person to read it, and slowly but surely--the people attracted to it are finding it. Probably through word of mouth and reviews. People and I'm pretty much just going on what I see--don't review books they didn't connect to in a strong way. People either love this book or hate it, but they're the right audience--and they're reacting. I suspect the author will be successful despite being a slow writer simply because of the way he connects with his readers.

I've rambled, I know--but I think to be a slow, successful indie writer (and monetary success is relative) you need to either expand your readership or narrow it down--but if you decide to narrow it down and find your niche, it needs to be a viable niche.


Jennifer Leeland said...

I always love your take on things. Melissa Blue and I often discuss things like this and the conversation often ends with "Well, we could try to figure it out but it would drive us both crazy. topic?" I learned after a REALLY tough 2012 that I don't know crap and my job is to do the best job of writing I can do. I'm no social media whiz, but I hang in there. I've seen some authors explode with success when they "chase the market" (write a sparkly vampire aiming to capitalize on Twilight...BDSM to capitalize on 50 Shades) and I've seen others crash into oblivion. So, since I'm not comfortable writing to the market, I don't. An editor for a big epub once told me that I wasn't "formula" so that's why I didn't sell. Probably true. But if I tried to write to the formula, it wouldn't be me anymore. Now, I'm rambling. LOL!

Cassandra said...

I'm also a slow writer, I have health issues beaucoup, so I can''t sit at a computer very long. Which means I can either do a 30 minute timed writing, or balance my checkbook, or pay bills online, or do social media, or read my emails, but I cannot do them all in that same 30 minutes. Then I have to go lay down and may not get back on the computer that same day. It makes writing almost painfully sloooow. It can take me 6 months to write a novella and years to write a novel that others can pop off in a couple of months. I'm a slow typist, as well. I try my very best to write the best book I can at the time I write it, but I'm not there yet, like others I see soaring the charts. And I think the whole productivity issue is key. I've had books tank horribly, and others do okay, but struggle to find an audience. Not sure what can be done to increase my sales, but I can't write to a formula either, unless I stumble upon it by accident. lol

I don't write f/f/ or m/m since it's just not my thing. I have experimented with bdsm-lite in my writing and noticed those books seem to do better overall. But I don't want to get stuck only writing bdsm and feel a real need to branch out since there are so many things I want to write about. I just lack the time. How do I find an audience that likes my quirky style?

Unknown said...

lol, Jen! I think you're a niche writer comfortable being a niche writer--now if only you could be a niche writer with a huge financial cushion. :) And I've been wondering about what makes someone chasing the market sell and some fail. It's got to be "something" you know? I need to spend some time actually thinking about it. :)

Hi CC!

I've been doing a lot of reading about the Amazon algorithms and watching sales rank and catalogs of the people whose processes (and productivity levels) I know and I'll say--I've seen some niche writers climb out of obscurity, but it takes a freaking long time. And "only" after a few reviews--not glowing reviews like friends give, but the random star reviews. The only thing, imho that can shorten the process is connecting with someone with connections and is willing to talk--like a reviewer with a book review blog, or someone with incredible social media connections, or just a lot of friends who have friends. I've also seen people who start out really big with a one-two release tank like a dead shark because they can't maintain writing/releasing momentum.

I'm rambling again, sorry. :(

I think what I'm trying to say is if you aren't willing to wait for the long tail to catch up with your quirky books (and I've just noticed there are easily over four million books on Amazon (thought it was three, lol!)) reviews and simply getting your name out are where it's at.

goodreads, librarything, making them downloadable off your site for awhile? Think like a library? The more you can reach at this point, the more you'll stand out from the other four million

Free = reach. And reach = name recognition, which later leads to sales and readership. Or if not a huge jump in sales, at least readership and you haven't lost anything except potential sales that you wouldn't have gotten anyway. But if you're sitting on a two million giveaway pile, that's two million people who might buy next time, and to paraphrase Zig Zagler, if you don't have someone to ask, no one will buy.

(((hugs))) Hope you feel okay today. :) I know what you mean, I've been having vision issues. Not a good thing. :(

Cassandra said...

Thanks, Jodi. I have good days and bad days, but I'm a tough old bird and hanging in there. :) I had wondered about my next book, offering the first book in the series for free for a while, maybe a week before I release the second book. Hoping that spurs some sales. ((hugs))