Monday, 25 August 2014

Who sold the most books?

And the winner is ...
The last time I blogged, I wrote about my decision to promote No Stranger to Death at 99p/99c as a Kindle Countdown Deal for a week in late July. I also mentioned that my friend Peter Flannery was doing the same with his already successful thriller First and Only. To make things really interesting, we wagered a bottle of champagne on which book would sell the most. We stayed in touch while the promotion was on, swapping emails and captured images of Kindle chart rankings, and met up recently to discuss what happened and share sales figures. Peter plans to blog about what he learnt from the exercise, and here are some of my observations.

So, who won?
Cutting to the chase, Peter sold the most ebooks overall. In fact, his unit sales were more than twice mine. However, I sold more in the UK while the majority of Peter’s sales were on, and although his daily sales peaked on Day 2 of his promotion, mine kept on rising until my book went back up to £1.99.  I can’t help wondering what would have happened if I could have held the price at 99p for, say, a further week.

What about Amazon rankings?
I checked No Stranger to Death’s Kindle store rankings twice daily (well, possibly more often than that – it did get addictive!).  Here are some of the book’s rankings landmarks on Amazon UK:

21st July (day 1)
27/7 (final day)
28/7 (promo ended)
Kindle store (paid)
Noir crime
Scottish crime
British crime

The changes in No Stranger to Death’s rankings on were pleasing too, despite the lower sales rate. From starting off just outside the top 100,000 Kindle books, on 25th July it peaked at an overall ranking of 9,298 and was at no. 5 in Noir crime, no. 57 in British crime and no. 50 in Murder. 

Other observations
During and immediately after the promotion I had a few Kindle Unlimited (KU) and Kindle Owners’ Lending Library (KOLL) borrowings, so my book’s profile had been raised enough to generate these.  In addition, I notched up more sales in Germany, Canada and Australia than I ever had before (even though the Countdown Deal was only on the UK and USA sites).

What does all this mean?
This was a learning exercise for both Peter and me. Because it’s impossible to track every book sale back to what motivated the buyer (I wish!) we can only make educated guesses at what the data we’ve collected is telling us. Alas, as someone once said, ‘Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half’.  However, here’s how I have interpreted the results of my Countdown Deal.

Peter invested in a BookBub promotion which took place on Day 2. As this was the day his sales peaked, it seems like the market leader in book promotions does deliver increased sales, although with a heavy bias towards the US market. My book is still hampered by a lack of reviews on It was hard to get many promotional sites to even consider listing it (I didn’t try BookBub for this reason) and this has probably put off potential buyers too. 

I spent far less than BookBub would have cost on free/cheap ($10) book promotion sites like The Daily Bookworm, 99 Cent Mysteries and Awesome Gang, and more than made back my money. Although most of them carried through on their promises, I’m not convinced they generated a lot of sales for all the effort it took to register with them. However, given Peter’s experience, if I could get my book accepted, I would give BookBub a go in the future.

I value the friends I’ve made on Twitter and have such a fear of becoming an annoying ‘Buy my book!’ person there that instead of blitzing social media I paced myself with just a couple of promotional tweets each day. This seems to have paid off as friends on Twitter helped tremendously in spreading the word in the UK. (My thanks to everyone who retweeted on my behalf.) 

Even though I scheduled promotional tweets during the UK night in order to catch some Americans while they were online, I don’t have sufficient USA followers to make this work for me.

Despite my Facebook author page having 143 likes (not a lot, I know, but I’ve put little effort into promoting it), none of my promotional posts reached anything like that number of people, even when I liked and shared them with friends on my personal FB page. I didn’t pay to increase their reach because I’ve tried that once before and it was a total waste of money. However, all was not lost on the FB front, as I also posted details of my Countdown Deal on several crime/mystery fiction FB groups which allow promotional postings. I know these garnered at least a few sales, because I got comments from people who liked the sound of my book and bought it. That is one of the strengths of FB: it enables immediate feedback.

I’m not convinced that promoting my book as a Countdown Deal gave it much visibility on either of the Amazon websites. You have to go searching for the page featuring these books, unlike Daily Deals, books in the Summer Sale, etc which are boldly presented to everyone visiting the Kindle store and included in targeted emails. Does the counting-down element (‘Price goes up to £x in 5 days’) really motivate readers to buy? That said, books in Countdown retain the higher 70% royalty rate. If I promoted outside this, my royalty rate would halve.

What next?
Running the first price promotion for No Stranger to Death was informative and fun, although it involved a lot of work to maximise its effect. I’ve benefited financially, but not to a huge degree, and I’m hopeful that as people who downloaded my book get round to reading it, the number of Amazon reviews it has will steadily increase. I can now refer to its Kindle chart success, e.g. ‘A Kindle top 5 Scottish crime novel’, in other marketing I do.

Here are some plans I have for the future:
  • No Stranger to Death’s lack of reviews by American readers is holding it back, and I need to address this. Ideas I have include contacting US book bloggers (although many refuse to review self-published books) and using GoodReads to distribute review copies. I may even look at doing a short ‘free’ promotion solely on If anyone has any other suggestions, please let me know.
  • The temptation to throw everything at a promotion is huge, but maybe next time I’ll experiment with fewer marketing components to help identify what really works.
  • I must weigh up the pros and cons of simply reducing the price of No Stranger to Death rather than making it a Countdown Deal. I could then decide when to put the book’s price back up. If it was doing well at the lower price, I could hold it there for longer.
  • I have now gone way beyond the sales threshold required of self-published authors to join the Society of Authors. My application is going in this week.
  • By far the best thing I can do to sell more books is write more! So in tandem with my ongoing promotion of No Stranger to Death, I’m hard at work on its sequel, working title Too Soon a Death.

By the way, Peter declared our competition a draw (because of my UK sales success) and told me I don’t need to buy him a bottle of champagne. But of course I will.