Friday, January 28, 2011

My novel highlighted on Spalding's Racket

I'd like to thank Nick over at Spalding's Racket for highlighting my novel, Dead Dwarves Don't Dance.

He helps out indie authors, so you should help him out by visiting his site and checking out the other new books he's mentioned!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Do author blogs cause book sales?

It’s a question we self-published authors often ask ourselves. Is anyone reading my blog actually buying my books? Of course, we get anecdotal confirmation when a commenter  mentions that they bought a book. But, statistically speaking, is there a correlation between blogging and sales?
I’ve already posted three times (here, here, and here) about paid advertising. I thought I should pontificate on non-paid advertising, which is what this blog is. Aside from a place to wax endlessly about charts and writing, this blog is also here to get people interested in my books. But, is that working?
Here's another spiffy chart to try to answer that question:

In the chart, the white line indicates daily views on this blog. The red line is the daily total sales of all my books. While the height of the two lines can differ significantly, there is definitely a correlation with the peaks and valleys.
Between 12/27/2010 and about 1/3/2011, the blog line seems to lag behind the sales line. Does this indicate readers who first bought my book, then found my blog? One can assume that.
But, things seem to turn around 1/5/2011. There, it looks like the blogviews and sales lines get in sync. A sales peak matches a blog peak, and the valleys line up, too.
I never expected there to be this much of a correlation. It looks like my blog is helping sales!
Or is it?
The peaks and valleys are usually right on the same day, so there is no definitive way to determine if the book caused the blogviews, or the blogviews caused the book sales.
However, since it takes more effort to get to my blog from my book, I think it’s safe to assume that the causality here is probably from blog views to book sales.
So, my advice to other authors is to start and maintain a blog. You’ll probably get more sales as your blog becomes more popular.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Do paid ads cause more sales?

Paid advertising is one obvious way to try to increase sales of your ebooks. I’ve tried Bing, Google, Project Wonderful, and Kindleboards. I compared these paid advertising opportunities in this post and this post.
Unfortunately, conversion rate data is unavailable for ads placed on the first three because we can’t put ad service-specific conversion code on Amazon webpages. Kindleboards, however, does provide conversion rate data, which can give you a very concrete way to grade your ad results on their website.
However, with no conversion data for the other ad services, I have to look at other traffic data to estimate ad efficiency and return on investment. One way to estimate this is to look at my daily ad expenditures and chart that with my daily royalties.
So, did my paid advertising efforts cause increased sales? Let’s check the following chart (click chart to enlarge):

While causality is hard to determine, it does appear that there is some correlation between ad expenditures and royalties from book sales. For example, it seems like my ads between November 28 and December 9 did cause some increase in sales. The same with Dec 30 to Jan 6.
Oddly enough, greater expenditures in advertising (note the 3 huge spikes in ad expense), don’t seem to correlate to similar huge spikes in sales. Those three spikes indicate the days when I spent a lot more money on ads for sites with larger average pageviews/impressions. However, these sites are not targeted to my book genre. What this tells me that the higher cost for less-targeted, higher impression sites do not give as good a return on investment.
The lesser ad expense spans, such as Dec 30 to Jan 6, indicates where I targeted my ads to lower pageview/impression sites specific to my book genre (science fiction, cyberpunk). In these cases, I saw more correlation. This tells me that targeted ads are much more efficient.
Of course, the obvious question is, why not put ads up on websites with high pageviews/impressions AND that have a science fiction fan base? Well, when I find one of those that doesn’t have a $3,000 buy minimum, I’ll do exactly that. If you have any suggestions, please let me know.
Although I only have a couple months of data, there certainly does appear to be a correlation between paid ads and sales. While this may seem obvious, the question is can I earn more in royalties than I am spending in ads? The Dec 30 to Jan 6 data seems to indicate yes. I’ll just have to work at it.
If you can afford it, you should consider experimenting with paid ads, but just on targeted websites. Project Wonderful is a low-cost ad service option to find targeted websites.
Paying for ads on high-traffic sites that don’t have visitors interested in your product doesn’t seem to be worthwhile.
(My next post will examine correlations between blog pageviews and sales.)

Monday, January 17, 2011

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Kindleboards advertising results

Warning: This post is full of number-crunching analysis. It is not for those who quail at the mention of math and accounting. If you want to skip all the analysis and head straight for my conclusions, scroll down to the Conclusions and Advice sections.
On Wednesday, January 12th, 2011, my banner ad for my ebook Dead Dwarves Don’t Dance went up on In this post, I’ll give you numbers, analysis, and recommendations about this advertising.
Kindleboards charges a fee of $40 for this advertising opportunity. In return, your 728x90 pixel leaderboard banner ad will cycle with one other ad at the top of every Kindleboards page. This means that, for one day, 50% of the pages that people see will have your ad on it. You can have the banner ad link to whatever URL you desire – your blog, your website, your Amazon book page, etc. I had my ad link to my Amazon book page.
Here is the ad banner that I used (click to enlarge each image):

My results
Here is the one-day traffic data for my banner ad, reported to me by Harvey from Kindleboards:
74,752 impressions
45 clicks
1 sale
Unknown number of samples downloaded
This traffic computes to the following online advertising performance:
Cost per thousand impressions (CPM) = $0.54
Cost per click (CPC) = $0.89
Clickthrough rate (CTR) = .0006
Conversion rate = 2.2%
Comparisons with other advertising
I have also paid for advertising on Project Wonderful, Bing, and Google (I compared them in this post). Here are some traffic performance comparisons. (Project Wonderful, Bing, and Google data is based on multiple ads across multiple days. kindleboards data is based on one ad on one day.)
Cost per thousand impressions (CPM)

Kindleboards has the highest CPM (cost per thousand impressions) and is therefore the most expensive. CPM can be used to evaluate the overall traffic that a website gets. From this data, it seems clear that Kindleboards is charging more than the going rate for their ad banners based on the user traffic that they provide. For example, a quick search of Project Wonderful advertisers with 70,000 – 75,000 impressions/pageviews per day (over the last 5 days) reveals costs ranging from $0.20 to $9.00 per day.
If Kindleboards can deliver a more targeted audience, however, a higher CPM is warranted. In this case, we can assume that near 100% of the audience owns a Kindle. That is certainly worth a somewhat higher CPM. We probably cannot assume that with most of the sites available on Project Wonderful, Bing, or Google. A quick search for the tag name “Kindle” on Project Wonderful comes up with only 3 websites (my blog being one).
CPM is not the only factor in determining the “worth” of an ad banner. If the clickthrough rate of a site is very high, it can make up for an expensive CPM.
Clickthrough Rate (CTR)

One way for a website to make up for a high CPM is with a high clickthrough rate (CTR). A high CTR is an indication that the user base for the website includes a large percentage of people interested in your product.
For my ad, Kindleboards had a VERY low CTR of .0006, compared to .03 for Google and .1 for Project Wonderful and Bing.
CTR can fluctuate considerably based on the ad banner, ad content, and website user base. The .0006 CTR for Kindleboards tells me that my ad banner was not compelling to the Kindleboards membership. This can be my fault, for designing a poor banner, or it can be a result of the Kindleboards user base not having many scifi fans. I could experiment with different ad banners to try to improve this CTR. However, each Kindleboards ad experiment costs $40. I cannot afford that.
Cost per Click (CPC)

The cost-per-click of an ad is another way to grade the performance of website advertising. Generally, a low CPC means that the user base for the site has a large percentage of people interested in your product.
Unfortunately, Kindleboards’ CPC is more than double Google, triple Bing, and 11 times Project Wonderful. What this tells me is that Kindleboards does not have very many scifi fans, or that my ad was just very poorly designed.
Conversion rate
The conversion rate is the ratio of people who clicked on the ad who ended up buying the product. I only have this data for Kindleboards (conversion rate = 2.2%). There is no way for me to get conversion data from Amazon for my Bing, Google, or Project Wonderful ads. Therefore, I cannot make any solid comparisons in this area.
Sales trends 
Here is a chart of my daily sales.

As you can see, even though I sell only a few books a day, I did not get much of a bump on the day my Kindleboards ad ran. Yes, I did get a spike there, perhaps even a 33% increase in sales. But, it was because of 1 book. If I sold 50 books a day, such a spike would make a Kindleboards ad worthwhile.
Was my ad on Kindleboards a success?
I certainly wanted my ad on Kindleboards to be successful.
Kindleboards came in a distant 4th in all online advertising traffic performance data that I could compare. Also, I spent $40 to earn $2.
I don’t think I can call the ad a success in any way.
Maybe some of those 45 people who clicked on the ad also downloaded samples. Maybe they will buy my book in the future. There is no way for me to know that. I can only grade the performance based on the hard data I have.
Why did my Kindleboards ad fail?
I do not blame Kindleboards for the failure of my ads. I blame myself for the following reasons:
1.    It was my banner ad that failed to connect with the Kindleboards users. I’m not a professional marketing expert. I’m just a self-publishing author doing all my own advertising. The banner ad was not compelling enough to get people to click on it.
2.    Could be my genre is not popular with the Kindleboards users. My ad indicates science fiction and action. A tiny fraction of users found that compelling enough to click on the ad. Does Kindleboards have a large scifi fan base? It doesn’t seem like it.
3.    Perhaps my $2.99 price was too expensive. But, if Kindleboards users are not interested in $2.99, then they’re not the audience I want to advertise to.
4.    Maybe my book title isn’t interesting enough for the members? Or maybe it’s too violent?
So, to put it in a nutshell, I do not believe that Kindleboards is the correct website to advertise my science fiction novel. However, due to the lack of membership demographics, there was no way to know that until I actually advertised.
My ad failed on Kindleboards.
My ads perform significantly better on Project Wonderful and even Bing and Google. The reason my ads perform better on Project Wonderful is because I can target them to receptive users, cheaply experiment with different banners, and buy multiple repetitive ads at a significantly lower cost.
On the other hand, other authors have indicated on the Kindleboards message boards that they have done significantly better than me. Some have had up to 30 sales or more on the day of their Kindleboards ad, and saw significant jumps in rankings. Obviously, there are many factors that determine success. It would be great to get some hard data on these success stories, such as genre and price. Then, prospective advertisers could better assess the chances for their own ads.
My advice to other authors
While Kindleboards advertising did not work for me, it might work for you. Maybe you have a better banner ad, or your genre connects with the membership.
I encourage you to buy at least one ad on Kindleboards so you can evaluate your own success. Part of a self-publishing author’s job is marketing, and it is your responsibility to seek out and find the best places to advertise. Kindleboards might be the place for your book or genre, even though it wasn’t for mine.
If you have advertised on Kindleboards, please add your results to the comments section.
Suggestions to kindleboards
To the fine folks who operate Kindleboards I would just like to say that I did not write this post in an attempt to diminish your service. You folks were nothing but helpful with my advertising on your site. However, I must honestly report on my results and, unfortunately, my results were not good. But, I think the reason for that was that my book and Kindleboards are mismatched, or my ad banner was really bad.
Here are some things that I think could help entice me to advertise on your site again:
1.    Lower your price. At $40 a day, and a $0.54 CPM, you are far more expensive than other ad services out there. You’re also pricing me out of experimenting with different ads on your site, or trying repetition to see if that can improve CTR. At $40 I’ll only ever advertise on your site once. Of course, it seems that you have the demand to support that price, so it probably isn’t in your best interest to lower it.
2.    Switch to using Project Wonderful to serve your ads. Project Wonderful provides great features to advertisers, including robust daily reporting and tracking. It is also an auction system. The marketplace determines how much your ad banners are worth, but you can set minimum bids. You probably won’t get $40 a day for your banner ad, based on other sites I’ve seen with similar daily pageviews/impressions. But, Project Wonderful supports 7 different banner sizes and you could put two or three on your forums. You might be able to get more than $40/day with 3 different ads. Who knows? Maybe you could experiment. (Project Wonderful does get a cut of your earnings.)
3.    Provide some more demographic data about your users. You have almost 30,000 members and it would be great to know more about them. Do some polling on your forums asking people to tell us what e-genres they buy, how much they spend per month on ebooks, country of residence, and so on. Provide these results in prominent locations.
Whether or not you investigate or experiment with any of these suggestions, I wish all of you folks at Kindleboards the best of luck and continued success.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Experimenting with allowing PW ads on my blog

As you can see to the right, I’ve put up an ad banner on my blog. This is an experiment. I wanted to see if I could make any extra money to help support my writing addiction.
Here’s how you can get your ad to show up over on the right:
1.    Go to and create an account.
2.    Create a skyscraper banner 160x600 pixels in size, and upload it to Project Wonderful.
3.    Create an ad on Project Wonderful using the skyscraper banner.
4.    Come back here and click on the text beneath the Paid Advertising banner to the right ("Your ad here, right now").
5.    On the bidding page, under Bid here, enter an amount you’d be willing to pay, per day, to see your ad show up on my blog. Then click Place Bid.
6.    I am going to approve each bid, because I only want books and authoring ads to appear. This might take a few hours or even until the next day. UPDATE: Unfortunately, there are not a lot of book/author advertisers out there yet. So, I'll open up the ads to some other stuff. Comics, at least. Those are stories. ;)
7.    After I have approved your ad, if you have outbid everyone else who is currently bidding, your ad will appear on my blog. Your ad will stay there until someone outbids your maximum bid.
8.    Anyone who clicks on your ad will be taken to the URL you specified when you created the ad in Project Wonderful.
9.    You can pause or cancel the ad at any time. You can get reports to see how the ad is doing, including impressions and clicks per day.
Every month I’ll report on how this experiment is going.

I just activated this ad space, so there is no traffic data yet. But, that will start showing up pretty soon. I get up to 450 pageviews per day. Here's my daily blog pageviews (impressions) since December 14th.

If you need help creating a skyscraper banner, let me know and I can do it for you. Just send me a high-resolution copy of the image you want to use. Also tell me what text you want on it. I'll send you back the banner ad which you can use anywhere you want. No charge. But, I'd appreciate it if you bought each one of my 3 books. :)

Here are some banners I've created for my books:

Monday, January 10, 2011

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Indie Author Short Story Project

A couple weeks ago in this post, I inaugurated an attempt to get a bunch of indie ebook authors to contribute to an ebook anthology. This will be an attempt to cross-promote our works by getting our work into each others' fans’ hands.

This will be a not-for-profit project. We’ll donate the proceeds to a yet-to-be-determined charity (probably literacy or library oriented).
We’ve got ten authors so far, writing in the following genres: 
Kevin Mclaughlin - SF or fantasy
Tara Maya - SF?
Edward L. Cote - fantasy
Manley Peterson - paranormal
Tony Lavely - romantic fantasy
BC Woods - fantasy
John Hartness - urban fantasy
Kelly Gorman - ?
Brian Drake - paranormal mystery
Derek J. Canyon - SF

We’d still like to get a couple more authors involved, so comment below if you are interested in joining the project.
For those of us already listed, we need to determine the following:
  • We’ll need a messageboard or some other way to communicate so we can track our discussions. Does anyone have any suggestions?
  • What should the title be? Ed has suggested Twelve Worlds. Sounds catchy, with a sub-title of some kind. Does anyone have any other suggestions? Like, The Twelve Worlds Project – A dozen stories from a dozen independent ebook authors. Throw any suggestion you’d like into the pot.
  • Should we restrict the genres? Or allow anything?
  • Where do we get the cover art? Do we want to spend any money on it? Can any of us do it?
  • What word count limits/requirements do we want. Something between 3,000 and 7,000?
  • Do we want to pay for an editor? Or, should we all edit each others’ work?
  • What deadline should we target for turning in the unedited drafts, and then the publishable versions? Two months?
  • Which charity should we select? Any suggestions? I’d like to choose one where the majority of the donation actually gets to the recipients.
  • I can handle the formatting and publishing for Kindle, Smashwords, and PubIt.
What else have I missed?
We’ll need volunteers to handle some of these items, so if you’d like to handle any of the tasks, speak up.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Format Your eBook for Kindle in One Hour now available as a $0.99 ebook!

If you liked my blog post about formatting for Kindle, you’re in luck. I’ve rewritten those instructions to be easier and quicker and put it all in this $0.99 Kindle ebook.

Format Your eBook for Kindle in One Hour - A Step-by-Step Guide provides, surprisingly enough, basic step-by-step instructions on how to format your ebook for Kindle. It gives you the necessary steps to format your book as quickly as possible without using Amazon’s conversion tools. This book is not a reference guide that tells you every minute detail about formatting books for Kindle.

If you don’t want to pay to have some service convert a manuscript into the Kindle format, but you also don’t want to spend a lot of time on it yourself, then this book is for you. This is also for you if you don’t like the automatic conversion results that the Kindle tools provide. With this guide YOU determine where the page breaks are, how many line breaks between your chapter title and the start of the page, and so on.

The goal of this guide is to enable you to (relatively) quickly format your ebook in a simple fashion with cover art, copyright page, clickable table of contents, and chapter titles. So you aren’t overwhelmed, these instructions tell you how to format your ebook in one way, with minimal options.

This book includes a link to an HTML template that you can use for any Kindle ebook. You do NOT need to know HTML. You just need to replace some placeholder text to specify your book information in a text editor such as Notepad or Microsoft Expression. You’ll also need to do some Find & Replace on your book in Word, plus some Copy & Paste.

These instructions tell you how to include the following in your ebook:
                Line breaks
                Page breaks
                Links from one part of your book to another part of your book
                Cover art
                Copyright page
                Links to any website (for web-capable devices)
                Clickable table of contents
                Chapter titles
                Numbered and bulleted lists

Also included are instructions on how to zip your files for submission to Amazon DTP.

This eBook is published DRM-free. You can buy it here for just 99 cents!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The keys to epublishing success?

Over in this thread on kindleboards, several dozen e-authors are revealing that they have joined the 1,000+ Sales/Month Club. This is great news for them and I congratulate each one for the time and effort they’ve put in to achieve their success. I’ve done a bunch of research and crunched some numbers, and in this post I’ll use some spiffy charts in some analysis.
First, is 1,000 or more sales per month an indicator of success? That’s a good question. We don’t know how many of those books were given away for free or for a low price such as $0.99 (which would garner the author only $0.35 per sale).
But, even at a cover price of only $0.99, an author would make $350/month if they sold 1,000 units. That’s $4,200 per year. That’s not enough for a career, but it is a very nice income boost. I’d call this a success for any “hobbyist” or newbie author. If I make $4,200 this year, I'll certainly consider it a success.
If you assume that the cover price of the book is $2.99 (the minimum required to receive a 70% royalty from Amazon), then the author is making just over $2,000 per month, or $24,000 per year! Even after Uncle Sam takes his cut, the author is probably left with a very good chunk of change. Enough for a couple very nice vacations a year, a snazzy home theater system, or a down payment on a house. I’d call this an unqualified success.
Anything more than $2,000 a month is getting close to being enough to live on comfortably.
So, I’d say that 1,000+ sales per month is a success no matter how you cut it.
Now, on to the numbers. I’ve added some data points to Robin Sullivan's list of 54 authors who have stated they are selling 1,000 or more units per month. You can see the table below. Amanda Hocking tops the list with 100,000 units sold in a month! Very impressive! Especially when you cnosider she’s been publishing for less than a year.
The table below provides the hard data. The sales numbers are provided by the author, but I’ve researched the genre and number of titles available columns. Obviously, this table is incomplete. I’m sure there are more authors who sell 1,000+ units per month. If you’re not on the list and want to be, let me know. Also let me know if I have any of your information wrong.

Oops!! I forgot to mention that the Robin Sullivan first compiled the list of authors and sales numbers in the kindleboard thread noted above. I merely researched the information for the other columns.
 (Click images to see larger size.)

What does this table tell us? Does any of this data suggest trends that can help the rest of us achieve success?
Unfortunately, I don’t have enough data for the Previous Print Publishing column to make any suppositions on how important that is.
As for genre, there is a wide variety represented in the table. The top 4 genres are romance, paranormal, thriller, and mystery. But, there is a wide variety of additional genres. It looks like the club is open to almost any genre.

But, what does seem to be a commonality with most of the authors selling 1,000+ units is that they have more than one title available.

What is the key to epublishing success? From the limited data I have above, it seems that it’s the number of titles an author has available.
67% of the authors have three or more titles available. It makes sense that the more titles you have for sale, the more sales you earn. Joe Konrath talks about this a lot over on his fine blog. And, from the numbers, you have to agree. It seems that a good strategy to join the 1,000+ Sales/Month Club is to emulate the existing club members by putting more ebooks up for sale.
Alas, that’s easier said than done. Unless you have backlist of books ready to go, you’re going to have to sit down and write those books. It can take me six months to get a book written and ready to upload. Other authors might be quicker, others slower. But, it seems that building your ebook portfolio is a long-term goal.
My advice? Get started now, keep writing, commit to 2 or 3 years of effort before you evaluate your success, and don’t lose hope!

Monday, January 3, 2011

I'm interviewed at Kindle Author!

David Wisehart over at Kindle Author was kind enough to interview me about my ebook Dead Dwarves Don't Dance and epublishing in general. He posts lots of interviews of all sorts of authors with different histories and different genres. If you're looking for insight into epublishin, or just a large sampling of ebook authors, you should definitely follow Kindle Author.

Read my interview here.

Thanks a lot, David, for giving me the opportunity!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

End of year sales report

I’m an aspiring author with no print publishing credentials. Three months ago I published my first science fiction ebook, Dead Dwarves, Dirty Deeds, to Amazon Kindle. It is a short story trilogy about criminal scumbags in the 22nd century. It’s hard-boiled, action-packed, violent, tech noir, cyberpunk. I published it as a test before my full length novel. I used it as to get accustomed to the publishing process.
I hoped to sell 30 copies in October. Alas, I only sold 12. And even fewer in November, only 9! I spent $643.34 to produce the book. In return, I had earned a whopping $7.35 in sales. In two months I had earned back 1.1% of my investment. This did not do much to buoy my spirits.
On November 22nd, 2010, I published my first full-length novel, Dead Dwarves Don’t Dance, and things started to change. As you can see in the daily sales chart below, my sales increased when I had two books and started to advertise. (Click to view larger.)

The yellow areas indicate where I spent money on advertising. There are definitely upticks in sales. However, I cannot say with 100% surety that those sales were caused by the advertising. It’s only a correlation. But, I’m inclined to believe that a good portion of the upticks would not have happened if I had not advertised.
I have spent $205.34 on advertising, and earned a total of $199.59 on book sales. I’m almost breaking even. With some more experience running ads and vigilance of my ad campaigns, I’m betting I can start earning more than I spend on advertising.
I am not saying advertising is for everyone. But, I believe it definitely improves my numbers. And, since my numbers are so small, the improvement is significant. If you’re selling dozens of books a day, you probably won’t see much uptick in sales if you advertise as I did. (See my previous post for my earlier evaluation of advertising, with comparisons of Bing, Google, and Project Wonderful.) 
Finally, here are the total sales by book for my first 3 months (click to view larger):

My sales went from 13 in October, to 21 in November, to 122 in December. December’s 500% increase in sales is great to see but also very daunting. I do not expect to see January sales jump as much. But, I won’t complain if they do. ;)

My records
Best sales day = 10 books sold on December 31
3.93 books sold per day in December

What did I learn from the first 3 months? Two important things:
Sales will improve, even if they slump now and then. So, don’t lose hope.
Advertising helps, especially when you have low sales. If you can afford it, I’d definitely suggest that you advertise. Project Wonderful is where I had the most success with advertising. You should check them out.