Friday, August 29, 2014

Working the algorithm – the Huntress Moon 99c sale



My 99 cent sale of Huntress Moon is on - #1 in Mysteries, #1 in Thrillers in the Nook store, today! - so if you haven’t gotten a copy yet, this is your last chance at this price before Thomas & Mercer re-releases the book in the fall.

Amazon US    99c
Amazon UK    99p
Amazon DE    Eur .89
Paperback      $7.99

Nook US         99c
Nook UK         99p


"This interstate manhunt has plenty of thrills...  keeps the drama taut and the pages flying."   -- Kirkus Reviews

- An ITW Thriller Award Nominee for Best Original E Book Novel
- A Suspense Magazine Pick for Best Thriller of 2012
- A Huffington Post Books Pick for "Women You Should Be Reading" 2014



And I promised to post about promotional strategies. Which is going to take more than one post, but it’s good timing for me to muse about it, since I’m doing a digital publishing panel at Bloody Scotland in a couple of weeks, with successful UK indie authors Allan Guthrie and Ed James. I also recently did an e publishing panel at the WGAw (that’s the screenwriters’ union), where authors Lee Goldberg, Christiana Miller and producer Lane Shefter Bishop and I talked about e publishing strategies.

Of course, what everyone wanted to hear about was promotion – what works?

I’m not going to dwell on the things that SHOULD be self-evident. Like, OF COURSE you have to have a great book that you’ve had professionally edited and formatted and that other people think is great. Although I will say that the more books you have, the more likely you are to have success at indie publishing. The medium favors fast writers (which I am not! On the other hand, I prefer my books with layers of meaning, which takes some time.)

There are lots of ongoing promotional strategies that all writers do to some extent or another. A great website with SEO (search engine optimization), presence on social media sites that is personal and engaging rather than spammy and homicide-inducing, maintaining an opt-mailing list of your readers for newsletters, blogging, guest blogging, appearing at conferences and libraries, etc.

But today I’m going to talk about a specific kind of promotion: Working the algorithm.

That is, using the tools that the big online bookstores – Amazon, Barnes & Noble, et al, have, to get THEM to promote your books for you.

The principle of these promotional strategies is co-op. It’s interesting to me how many authors and readers have no idea what co-op is. When you walk into a bookstore and are confronted with a front table full of books, you may be assuming that these are chosen by the bookstore/booksellers. Oh, no. No, no. That is co-op: prime real estate that is paid for, handsomely, by publishers, who use large amounts of money to get the authors they want to push, up front and center. It’s a strategy of self-fulfilling prophecy: publishers make books bestsellers by making customers THINK they’re bestsellers.

New and midlist authors rarely get a chance at that co-op space. But indie authors have a shot at that front table placement in the online bookstores - through what is known as the algorithm: the Amazon algorithm, or the Barnes & Noble algorithm.


Disclaimer:  My brain has gone into deep freeze at the idea of advanced mathematical concepts ever since I was sexually harassed by a creepy Algebra teacher back in high school. Sad but true. I got my revenge in The Space Between, though....

And technical articles like this one just make my eyes glaze over.

So I’m actually not the best person in the world to explain the concept of the algorithm, and I’m sure other people out there have done it better. 

But here’s how it works practically: If you drop the price of your ebook and use some of the tools out there to sell enough copies of that book in a short period of time (or give enough away), you can drive your book onto the online bookstore bestseller sublists and then onto the main bestseller lists on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, then Amazon’s/B&N’s algorithm will start automatically recommending your book in multiple places in their online stores and newsletters to create exponential sales for you. (Nothing drives sales like having your book listed in that Amazon e mail you may have signed up for that appears in your mailbox every few days: Looking for something in Mystery & Suspense?)

Yes, there are other online platforms and bookstores out there, but I’m just going to be talking about Amazon and Barnes & Noble because they’re the biggest, and that’s where my experience is.

Amazon in particular gives you some fantastic free tools to help you launch these promotions - if you make your ebook exclusive to Amazon for three months via the Kindle Select program.

-       - Giveaways: during those three months you can give away your book for free for up to five days.

-       - Kindle Countdown: you can drop the price of your books and have Amazon count it down for you on the book page and on their lists to create urgency for the sale.

-       - Hot New Release list:  if you understand that one of your VERY best promotional opportunities is in the first four weeks after you hit “publish,” then you can time your promo efforts to take advantage of that window of opportunity. I always urge people who are just starting with indie publishing NOT to make their books available until they fully understand this concept, because you only get one shot at this list with each book.

I’ve talked about Kindle Select Giveaways before, but let me just say part of it again for those who may be just joining us:

A lot of inexperienced writers – and some traditionally published writers who are thinking of self-publishing - balk at giveaways. How can anyone possibly make any money at this if we’re giving books away? Traditionally published authors also tend to look down on indie writers for doing giveaways). The fact is, giveaways are always part of the marketing process of a book. Traditional publishers give away thousands of copies of each book they publish to create word of mouth and generate reviews – and build readership. As drug dealers have known since the beginning of  - drug dealing - that you need to give a little something away at first to get your potential customers hooked. But once they're hooked, the money just rolls in, a regular income stream. 
It's exactly the same way with books, which are after all just another form of addiction. Come on, you know it's true.
Wouldn't you pay full price right now for the newest book by one of your favorite authors?  I know I would. Mo Hayder, Tana French, Nicci French, Lee Child, Mr. King... I'd pay extra to get any one of them NOW. 



Well, that's what these giveaways are about. A big giveaway is a great way to hook new readers on one of your books, and like good addicts, those readers will then buy all your other books, and you build your readership.


I’ve done Kindle giveaways before with great success – it’s how Huntress Moon became an Amazon bestseller. But that was partly because two years ago Amazon counted those free downloads as a partial sale, which kept books up in the ranks even after the price reverted to normal. The algorithm for counting free books has changed, so authors I know who are running giveaways aren’t getting anywhere near the same results as you could get in the beginning of the program.

Even so, the Kindle Select giveaways are still fantastically worth doing – because there is NO OTHER WAY an author can possibly reach 10,000, 20,000 or sometimes many more potential new readers in two or three days - for free. 

This time I decided to do a 99 cent sale of Huntress Moon instead of a giveaway because I wanted to target both Amazon and Barnes & Noble, to expand my readership for the Huntress series. I figure Thomas & Mercer will be taking over the Amazon advertising when they launch the series, but I have a chance on my own to promote the series to Nook readers (I’ll report more on that after the sale.)

But whether you decide to do a giveaway or a sale, there is one thing you MUST understand.

It’s not enough to just set up a promotion on Amazon via your KDP dashboard and expect the downloads and sales to start rolling in. You need to do significant promotion on your own to make this kind of promotion work.

Now, theoretically you could schedule a giveaway or Kindle Countdown and work your mailing list and social media contacts to generate enough sales on your own to make the lists - without spending a dime. Theoretically.

But for most indie authors it’s almost impossible to generate that kind of sale without paid help from some of the the various paid advertising sites out there. There’s a whole infrastructure of advertising sites that make their own money off charging authors for promotions that will help them work the Amazon and Barnes & Noble algorithms.

And it always seems that there are a couple of specific book advertising sites out there, or a combinations of sites, that authors who use this strategy agree are the most effective. The top sites change, so you have to do your research and keep informed about which sites are getting the job done.

These days it’s Bookbub. Bookbub charges a premium for its exceptionally effective service, and I’ve never heard anyone say it wasn’t worth every penny. What Bookbub has is a subscription list of well over a million readers who have requested news of sales in their preferred genres. So when Bookbub puts your book in its newsletter, you’re getting it out to a targeted audience of avid readers. You will pay hundreds of dollars for a listing, but will almost certainly make that investment back in a day of sales, and then your book continues to generate sales, and profit, because of its elevated sales rank. Because again, once you make it on to the bestseller lists of the online bookstores, they will be doing the bulk of your promoting for you automatically.

The catch is, Bookbub is very selective about the books it chooses to promote. These days I hear that your book has to have at least 100 customer reviews and a four star average rating to even be considered (to be clear, that’s not what Bookbub says in its policy statement, it’s what authors I know who use it seem to have noticed).

So for relatively new indie authors, Bookbub is probably something to investigate and work toward, rather than count on. But there are other book advertising sites out there that don’t require such a high threshold of reviews but can also generate sales, and I’ll do another post exploring some of them once I have collated results. This post is already long enough!

To sum it up: Paid advertising sites boost sales of your book to get you on the Amazon/B&N (etc) bestseller charts, and then Amazon/ B&N (etc.) will start advertising for you free of charge.

So, authors – have you used Bookbub? Are there other paid advertising sites you find effective?  And most importantly – have you come across good posts/articles that explain how the algorithm works? I’m always looking for good stuff to link to!

And readers: were you aware of co-op? Do you feel manipulated?  J

- Alex


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All the information on this blog and more is in the writing workbooks. Screenwriting Tricks for Authors and Writing Love, Screenwriting Tricks for Authors, II, are available for just $3.99 and $2.99.









If you're a romance writer, or have a strong love plot or subplot in your novel or script, then Writing Love: Screenwriting Tricks II is an expanded version of the first workbook with a special emphasis on love stories, and more full story breakdowns.


Smashwords (includes online viewing and pdf file)

Amazon US

Barnes & Noble/Nook

Amazon UK

Amazon DE






5 comments:

Page Pennington said...

As a reader I subscribe to Bookbub and have found several new authors that I might not have otherwise.
As a writer I would use something like that to promote my books.
Anything that gets the name of your book in front of a reader is always a win win.

Rhonda Lane said...

Thank you for this article, Alex. I hear so many conflicting reports about KDP, etc. Do you think reviews have an impact on the algorithm or more with potential readers?

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Hi Page! It's good to hear that Bookbub is doing its job for readers, too. I'm a subscriber to their mystery/thriller list myself and have also found some new authors that way.

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Rhonda, everyone I've ever talked to says yes, reviews play a big part in the algorithm formula. What exactly the numbers are, I haven't a clue!

I also am positive that being in KDP raises your Amazon rank. No one ever says this officially, but come on!

Silas Payton said...

Hi Alex.

Thanks for the informative post. It is the first I've heard about the Hot New Reases List and look forward to you posting more about it. I'm hoping to release my first book in the next couple months. I'm I correct in understanding that we should focus all efforts (twitter, kindle giveaways, Hot New Releases List, and paid kindle promo sites, etc.) all in that first month to boost the book in the algorythms?

I also look forward to you discussing promo sites that can be used by first time authors with no reviews.

Also, Thanks for a great blog. I've read your posts on story structure many times over and have used the information in my multiple works in progress.

Silas.