Our debut novel, Dead on Demand has now been off free for a little over four days. In that time we've had a few reviews, and we've gone up in the charts quite a bit.
The big question therefore is "What is driving these sales?"
I'd usually advocate the biggest way to sell books is word of mouth, and that advertising has limited effect. I still believe that.
The problem with holding that out as always being a true statement is that there hasn't been the time lag for Dead on Demand to benefit from word of mouth advertising. Word of mouth takes time. The initial readers have to read it and like it then tell their friends.
This is a slow process because not everyone will like it, nor everyone will tell people about it even if they do like it, and not everyone told about it will then go on to buy.
Let's look at how quickly this spirals.
For something to go viral it has to spread more quickly than word of mouth dies out. If, on average, a book sells one copy to a word of mouth contact for every person that reads it then the ratio of readers: viral sales would be 1:1. Anything less than this means the pool of readers gets smaller, and thus can't be considered to have gone viral.
Let's look at how small increments in a ratio can mean big gains over time...
Ratio of 1:1 - A tells B then C then D etc.... Over 10 rounds this reaches 10 people.
Ratio of 1:1.1 This time the word of mouth spreads 10% quicker (not much of a change). First round: 1 reached, Second round 1.1 reached... tenth round 2.59 people reached.
Ratio of 1: 1.2 reaches 6.19 after ten rounds
1:1.3 reaches 13.78 people per ten rounds.
A little extra effort per person, particularly early on, snowballs very rapidly.
This isn't what's happening here as, at best, we're one round of word of mouth in. So something else has to be driving this spurt of sales. We're at #27 in Thrillers on Amazon UK right now, a big list by any estimate, and our promotional activity isn't doing it. We haven't advertised since Saturday. We had lots of promotion last week for free, but that is unlikely to be driving these sales as those blog posts have long since been buried under several days of new freebies.
I think it's all down to Amazon. We don't know exactly how they work (though Dan had a good crack at guessing what factors they use in an earlier post over on our blog). We know there are multiple lists for how books are displayed using a combination of numbers sold, pounds grossed, numbers downloaded, numbers views, conversion rate, ranking etc. Popular consensus among authors is that there are at least two lists:
1. Sales (+ paid borrows)
2. Popularity (which is sales + freeloads at a reduced weight).
I'm not convinced it's quite this simple, but given the absence of any contradictory data I'm not going to make up spurious claims.
We know Sales is one list, but Dead on Demand was free for five days; so in those five days we racked up zero sales. This therefore isn't the driving force.
That leaves popularity. I think the UK and USA algorithms may be different here. Our UK downloads were half our US downloads but we're outselling the USA by a significant margin (and a x10 factor rank). Part of this is probably an appearance at #1 on the UK movers and shakers list.
That means that all these sales are at the grace of Amazon. They choose how to display books, and this choice reflects what they think will sell best (and thus garner the most cash).
I'm both thankful and fearful of such a situation. I obviously appreciate the huge exposure we've had in the last week with 55,578 readers grabbing our novel free of charge. That is money-can't-buy exposure, and has already boosted our rank. With a bit of income from this we can reinvest in the next book more easily to help with costs such as editing, proofreading, art and advertising.
The problem is that this exposure can change in an instant. As soon as Amazon think you aren't a huge profit centre they'll bump you for someone more likely to make them a profit. They have vested interests as well; they now have several very successful imprints of their own, and that means a need to prevent discount pricing from cutting into their margins (free actually helps inhibit discounting under a classic free market model).
So, why have we carried on climbing in the last few days?
Simple, Amazon use historical sales data. On Sunday our previous five days looked like this: 0 0 0 0 0 (because we were free thus couldn't sell anything).
That makes us a bad bet to push. Two days later and it's 0 0 0 # #.
Amazon heavily weight recent sales but they don't ignore historical data especially very recent history. This means more visibility now some have sold which enables further sales. It's a "you must have experience to get a job" situation where some initial spark is needed. For us this was free - because the three hours we spent post free on the free list (at #1 UK and #6) got us sales (as well as a shed load of returns because people didn't realise Dead on Demand wasn't still free). This snowballed into Movers and Shakers, which drove visibility thus sales, and this punted us up the actual sales list giving us visibility on both listings.
In all I think we can conclude that free runs CAN be a success, but it comes down to 'Go big or go home'. Even with 55.5k downloaded, we will get a fraction of a percentage of that back in paid sales unless we somehow snowball onto both the UK and USA top 100. These lists requires huge number of sales - at the top of the US list a book can sell three or four thousand copies a day. To go from 0/day last week to anywhere near this would require a very high viral ratio.
It does bring some negative aspects. That many eyeballs on any text means every error is glaringly obvious (we're actually doing yet another round of proofing now to try and eliminate these lingering typos). It also means reaching readers outside the target audience so negative reviews are going to happen. While we didn't sell a huge number early on, we did target our advertising to a crime niche and that keeps readers happy as they're predisposed to like it.
For some readers expectation drives perception - seeing the 90 days moniker leads to a preconceived notion that it will be worse than if we say it's done in a year or two. Similarly we've had one review today that called us out on being co-authored (while others have commented they've never spotted the seams in how it was split).
Would we do it again?
Absolutely. For a guide to how much we spent on advertising it was something like this:
· Facebook: £45.79 ($68)
· Kindle-Author.com: £13.01 ($20)
· KindleBookReview.net: £6.51 ($10)
· Kindle Nation Daily: £19.60 ($29.99)
· Flurries of Words: £3.93 ($6)
· Freebies/ giveaways etc: £58.30 ($88)
TOTAL: £148.14 ($225)
So not an insignificant spend but I think it paid off in the download numbers. We also got featured at another sixty or so websites for free (including all the big sites - POI on day 1 and ENT on day 5).
We hit #1 in free in the UK, and #6 in the USA. Perhaps a shorter run would have helped condense all that advertising into one day and given us the double #1 spot, we'll never know.
Dead on Demand is leaving Select now - we think we've given enough free copies out.
We may enroll the sequel into KDP Select to do a free run with that, but for the immediate future the benefit of being on all sales channels (such as Kobo, B&N, iTunes etc) outweighs the benefits of being Amazon exclusive.
Thanks again to Julia for letting us come over and ramble - and good luck to everyone considering a freebie run.
Dan and Sean
Sean and Dan Campbell are two brothers who have blazed a trail in the indie author world with "Dead on Demand" a taut nail biting thriller written and published in just ninety days. Already this debut novel has earned seventeen solid four and five star customer reviews in the United Kingdom, and ten five star reviews in the United States. In addition, a little self help guide based on their own steep learning curve as indie authors/publishers "Can't Sell, Won't Sell" has been an invaluable help for many novice writers and indie authors. I'm really delighted they've agreed to drop by and answer a few questions, a warm welcome to Sean and Dan - and on with the interview!
I read Dead on Demand three times, first as a spell bound reader, second because I just had to post a review, and the third time because I couldn't see any seams – the story flowed beautifully. How hard was it to co-author a story? Did you agree any hard and fast rules as to what went into the plot and what stayed out beforehand?
We had to outline the plot beforehand. With so much going on we needed to keep clear in our heads before we began exactly who knew what, when and how they knew it. There's a lot of secrecy, and both the police and the antagonists have different perceptions of what is actually going on. The forensics had to be planned carefully too as we know how jarring it can be when you spot something odd going with blood stains or entomology.
So we knew who was going to die and how very early on. In the first draft we actually had Edwin plotting every murder personally but it just seemed too contrived. In the end we went with a 'Edwin kills one person, but then needs more to die to cover up that first murder' approach.
This led to Edwin getting deeper and deeper in as the story progressed, and we hope the reader gets to go on that journey with him.
It’s a roller coaster journey for certain; the reader is certainly along for the ride. Edwin’s the catalyst, but he’s supported by a rich and varied cast of characters who have their own agenda, with chapters telling the story from their point of view. This really intrigued me – would for example you Sean write perhaps Edwin's point of view, and Dan step in with another character – say for argument's sake Inspector Morton?
I (Sean) did most of the Edwin perspective. It was quite scary to imagine how he would feel as the walls closed in. Clearly such a situation would leave him unhinged (if he wasn't already!) and his actions grow more desperate as the bodies pile up and Morton closes in.
Dan really enjoyed considering the police elements and how they would try to track down an anonymous foe. While Morton is the primary investigator he draws heavily on psychological profiling and the coroner to inform his actions, and that coming together of behind the scenes expertise with the reflexes, thoughts and hunches of a trained detective help to uncover leads that aren't readily apparent.
So yes, we did try and split up and it's very difficult to get in the mindset of both the deranged killer and the Met's (Metropolitan Police) finest at the same time.
Honest Sean – naming you as the ‘brother behind the killer’ was just a lucky guess! Dead on Demand is a sophisticated thriller, and it is mind blowing to think that Dan co-authored at the tender age of sixteen, while studying for GCSE exams. So Dan, this one's for you – why did you choose to take on such a challenge, and what was it like working with your older brother?
Being totally honest, I decided to take on the challenge to impress women (let me know if it's working ladies!).
Dan, with your looks, charm and wit, I’m certain even if you weren't one half of a successful writing duo, the ladies would still be lining up. But seriously, was it easier to write with a partner? I can imagine it has pros and cons – on the one hand there’s always someone to bounce ideas around with – or were there times when one of you wanted total control of the storyline?
We got most of the wrangling out of the way early when we outlined the plot so the quibbles were very minor (mostly of the 'Don't give him that accent! She wouldn't sit like that!' nature).
What did help is having a top tier (paid) editor to help smooth out all the logical inconsistencies that we didn't think of when plotting. Our editor went through the outline then the first draft and every draft after that. That said, any errors that remain are ours alone!
By anyone's standards, Dead on Demand has been a resounding success, especially considering that this is a debut novel by two independent authors starting from scratch. Apart from the obvious: write and produce an entertaining well edited novel, is there any one thing you would recommend to first timers?
Just go for it. Deadlines really help motivate writers. We've all got a tendency to procrastinate, and having a firm 'OMG! It's got to be ready' date really pushes you on. We committed to everything publicly which was why we sat at a keyboard for 12 hours a day seven days a week for the whole challenge.
Without that commitment we'd have just promised to do it tomorrow, and never got around to it.
I should think too that for both of you, knowing your brother was depending on a certain amount of daily output helped spur you on. I’m considering asking my sister if she’s got anything on for the next three months or so! For two novice authors, your marketing strategy has been highly professional – but is there anything you two wish you'd done differently?
We could have been a bit smarter with branding. The 90 days challenge was a great concept but we don't want to be known forever as the 90 days guys. Books take as long as they take. Our second book will take three times that (which is in part down to increased commitments outside writing) but it's nothing to worry about. Once an eBook is live it's on Amazon forever (well, as long as Amazon exists). That's a long time to earn out the costs.
Having surpassed the ninety day challenge, I think most people certainly know you as Sean and Dan Campbell, active and supportive members of the indie community and authors of a great novel! I’m sure everyone wants to know: What's next for the Campbell Brothers? Another collaboration? Can readers look forward to meeting Inspector David Morton again? Or now that you've both tasted success as novelists are you buzzing with ideas for new individual ventures?
David will be back. We're aiming for Christmas Eve as a release date but don't tell anyone, it's a secret! This time he'll be investigating a murder that sure to get everyone talking.
That is good news for Inspector Morton fans, and fans of the Campbell brothers – I know what I want for Christmas! Thank you both so much for dropping by. I’m certain Dead on Demand is going to rocket into Amazon’s free download charts when it goes free tomorrow. Thank you both so much for agreeing to this interview, I still have a ton of questions to ask, I'm sure readers are eager to learn more about forth-coming projects too - I hope you'll both drop by again very soon.
Sean and Dan will be reporting their progress on the promotion of Dead on Demand on their own blog. I’ll be watching and cheering from the side lines with great excitement.
Dead on Demand will be free from 4th to 8th September: Download from Amazon.com: Or Amazon.co.uk. Dead on Demand is also available to purchase in paperback from all good bookstores or you can order online. Or you could win a signed copy in this easy and free competition. Click on comments, and comment - even if it's just to say 'Hi' - your name will be entered into the free prize draw which will take place this coming Sunday, 9th September.