What To Do When Ebook Sales Start Dropping - Panic! Then what....? Stephanie Zia

One of the excitements of ebooks is that rather than having to fathom Amazon's sometimes bizarre rankings system, or trying to get figures out of your publisher (!), you know exactly how many books you sell, every day, every hour, every minute. You can go to your dashboard on Amazon, Smashwords, Kobo, wherever and see how it's all coming along.

Or not.

As I am responsible for publishing other authors as well, I have to keep a tight rein on records of sale for the monthly royalty payouts. This has always been an enjoyable exercise because month after month sales figures have been on the rise. Of course this had to fluctuate sooner or later, and in the past couple of months I have seen the first of the 'dips' across the board, especially with US sales.

Thankfully there were reasons. On a couple of days with no US Amazon sales at all (major panic) it turned out there had been a technical glitch at Amazon HQ. General elections and natural disasters also took their toll (and put things into perspective). It certainly did no harm in keeping me on my toes. As the curve curls gently up again, a few panic-induced initiatives look like they are paying off.

1. Anthology
To promote the fourth Susie Kelly book coming out on December 3rd, we put together an anthology of extracts from her previous three books, and took a chapter from her new one, to make up a short compilation of some of her favourite places in France. A country she's lived in for many years and travelled from one side to the other, up and down, every which way on foot, in an old van and by bike. The new book, Swallows & Robins - The Guests In My Garden, is uncharacteristically about staying at home as she renovates and rents a pair of gites in her garden. We had this Swallows cover drawn for us by Elle Ford, a hugely talented student who's been working with Blackbird since the summer. After giving the ebook away free to our Newsletter readers, FB and Twitter followers for a week, we put it on Kindle at the lowest price allowed, 77p/99cents. The Magic Of France is scheduled for a KDP Select freebie offer over Christmas, but is already turning into a little bit of a hit on its own, featuring in US Amazon's Hot New releases and popping our Japan sales cherry!

2. Re-title, Re-cover 
My own novels haven't been doing that well lately. I had become increasingly unhappy with the Ten Good Reasons To Lie About Your Age title. A title grafted on after the novel was finished to get acceptance by an agent. I changed the title to a Tracy Emin quote, The Beginning of Dying, and asked my cover designer (Fena Lee, Singapore-based student, see her work here) to go dark rather than bright and bouncy. I loved what she did, but this sent the sales figures down to ZERO! Black covers and titles about dying were not a good idea. So I changed it all back again to Ten Good Reasons.
Still not comfortable, I don't have any problem about age, and more importantly, neither does my character, I kind of forgot about it all. There is so much to do with other books coming along, to be written, to be published, I left it alone. But this latest panic got me thinking again, not consciously, and The Born Again Virgin title surfaced. Fortunately, because the cover is midnight blue it was no problem to scribble out the title words on Photoshop and have another go without bothering the cover designer. NOW I'm happy, and sales, especially in the UK, are finally moving again. Then it was pointed out to me that my OTHER novel had a completely unsuitable cover. Sometimes something can be staring you in the face and you don't see it. My friend had been a little hesitant to say anything, but I'm so glad she did. I went from a sex & dating pregnant lady (ewch - the clash was a result of another retitle from guide to Mum & Baby Groups - limited audience - To The Single Mother's Survival Guide To Sex & Dating). To a more suitable cover.

3. Apply To Awesome Indies
I heard about Awesome Indies in a Facebook forum when Authors Electric's Kathleen Jones posted about the acceptance of her book The Sun's Companion. Now The Born Again Virgin has just been accepted too - see left hand banner! Thank you Kathleen and to Tahlia at Awesome Indies. And talking of covers, how about this. Surely a contender for indie cover of the year. Is there such a thing?

4. Taking Another Roll of The KDP Select Dice
I have pulled everything from KDP Select and returned to multiple platforms via Smashwords and Kobo. But, with the KDP Select lending pot doubled for December and the huge Kindle Fire Christmas marketing campaign in the UK, especially via Waterstones, we've decided to put our new Susie Kelly title and my new novel title in to KDP Select for 3 months before rolling them out.Time will tell...


CallyPhillips said…
Very interesting about covers! Can you explain to me what the hell Awesome Indies actually IS. I cannot fathom it. Yet somehow I (and others) from IEBR seem to be on a list of people who are 'professionals' whose reviews are regarded as 'qualification' for getting a book listed there. But who chooses the lists? That's what I can't work out? I don't understand where the 'professionalism' is in it and I'm totally confused about the whole thing actually. Despite a couple of email correspondences with Tahllia herself.
What does it take to become Awesome?
Chris Longmuir said…
Interesting post. I don't sell much in the US so a dip there would never show up on my figures, it's a permanent dip. My main sales are in the UK and I did notice a dip over those two months, not sure what's going on. Maybe my marketing flagged, I'm not very good at it, or maybe it was just a trend. It's on the up and up again, thank goodness, so hopefully it was a blip.
Bill Kirton said…
I know you're right about the importance of covers but it's a bit annoying that books are judged by them, isn't it? As for sales figures, unlike Chris I sell far more in the US than in the UK, where numbers are negligible. I try to keep track of trends up and down but have never yet managed to identify what causes either a surge or a dip.
Anonymous said…
I'm not sure to what extent you can extrapolate from my situation to the book- or e book-buying public in general, but I'll share for what it's worth. I am a voracious consumer of books in both formats, but have been taking part in NaNoWriMo this month which has sucked up all of what would otherwise have been my reading time. Result: only one e-book purchased this month compared to the usual dozen or so.
Susan Price said…
Interesting, Ozonenut! The Nanowrimo dip. It's also close to Christma, folks. I know that I am thinking twice, and yea, thrice, about any purchase, because I am going to have buy all the Christmas extras soon.
And Bill, I love a beautiful cover, like Katherine's. It's no so much that I judge books by them, as that I appreciate them in their own right as a piece of great design, like a Lautrec poster. A dull or ugly cover won't stop me buying a book I otherwise like the sound of - but a beautiful one might tip the scales towards that sale a bit faster. And I know my artist brother has bought books solely because he loved the cover and wanted to own a copy of it.
But I think I and many others are quite capable of judging book and cover separately.
Stephanie Zia said…
Yes, that is an interesting point Ozonenut. And interesting that some of us have better UK than US and vice versa. I wonder how much genre has to do with it? The panic really came when sales totally stopped for a couple of days, due to some major Amazon technical problem, that was a bit of a shock. I guess re covers, an attractive one will pull you in whereas a dull, indifferent one won't register so you miss that initial step.
Lee said…
Sales? What sales?
Chris Longmuir said…
The Nanowrimo dip, I hadn't made the connection, but I went back and looked at my sales figures for last year and there was a similar dip then as well, so there must be something in it. At least now we'll know what to expect at this time of year!
Kathleen Jones said…
Interesting post - I think covers are really important - I've bought a book on several occasions just because I loved the cover. It was really nice of you to like my cover so much! Neil (who designs them) is smiling widely and shouting 'never mind the cover - read the book!!'. Sales? what sales!
I will never get rich this way - but oh, it's so much fun being an indie author!
julia jones said…
Awed by such resourcefulness and expertise (speaking as someone who can't reliably remember how to check the Amazon sales and who is therefore amazed and delighted if ever a cheque comes sidling through the letterbox)

Authors Electric IS a good place to be

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