In case anyone doesn’t know, once a year, Mark Coker does a survey to track sales across their distribution channels to see what common things the bestselling self-published books have in common.
I wanted to import the slideshow into this post, but my tech know-how isn’t all that wonderful. So I opted to link to it for reference.
I thought some of the findings were worth discussing on this blog. If anyone wants to add their thoughts in the comments below, please do. There might be something I missed.
Observation #1: Authors who sell more books tend to be active online.
This isn’t 100% true for all commercially successful authors, but overall, being involved online helps to sell your books. When I say being active, I don’t mean these authors are going around posting tweets and Facebook updates with “Here’s my book and where you can buy it” all the time. Those authors usually don’t sell well.
Having an online presence means you’re making it easy for people to find you and your books. A website and/or blog is a great way to showcase your work. I like to think of them as “home”. It’s where you can put your books up and talk about them. Now, what you choose to blog about can vary, but I do suggest having your books featured on pages within your blog, if you have one.
As for places like Twitter, Facebook, and Google +, the big thing is to be social. Hang out. Engage with others. Be conversational. You can have a link to your website/blog on your profile. If someone takes an interest in something you say, they’re probably going to check your profile. So make sure you build up those profile pages. My advice is to let the profile pages do your marketing for you. But when you’re engaging with people on these sites, don’t be there to sell your books. (Now, I do recommend letting people know when the book is first put up on pre-order, if you have a cover reveal, or when it’s released, but keep the marketing to a minimum. At least 80% should be social engagement that has nothing to do with your books.)
Observation #2: For fiction, price points $2.99, and $3.99 seem to be the best, with $3.99 having a slight more advantage.
The $0.99 price point moves books, and I think it can be used for promotions and even as a loss leader to introduce people to your work. But I do think if you are looking for profit, your best price points are in the $2.99-$3.99 range.
I suspect the sweet spot for pricing also varies with the genre you’re writing in fiction. I mainly write romance. I’ve heard romance readers watch their spending because they can go through a book or two a day. I’ve also heard other genres (such as thrillers and science fiction) have readers who are more likely to pay a higher price for books than romance readers are. These were not discussed in this Smashwords survey. These are things I gathered from talking with other authors over the years. So for me, I keep my books priced low ($0.99 or $2.99), though some romance authors do better at higher prices.
What seems to be clear from this survey and the one from 2014 is $1.99 is a horrible price for a book. I would stay clear from that price point based on the findings.
Nonfiction can sell higher than fiction. What the ideal price point for that is, I don’t know.
Observation #3: Pre-orders can help you sell more books.
In the survey, it seems a book that starts out as a pre-order will do 3.5 times better than a book that wasn’t. Do authors who have a larger platform with a larger readership have a bigger advantage over those that don’t? Of course. But that is going to be normal even if there was no pre-order.
I love pre-orders, but I don’t see massive pre-orders on my books flooding in. I don’t think it’s realistic to expect that. You can increase your chances of hitting a bestselling list in your category at iBooks or Kobo the longer you have your book available as a pre-order. iBooks and Kobo will accumulate the pre-orders, so when your book is released, you get credited for all those pre-orders as if you sold that many copies on that day. I love that feature. Amazon doesn’t do that, and I don’t think Barnes & Noble does either.
My thinking is, if you can give yourself an advantage, even if it’s a small one, why not take it? Pre-orders are easy to do, and they help save time on release date since the book is already uploaded. I wrote a post on ideas on promoting a pre-order. (As always, if you can think of anything else to add, please do. One person in the comments suggested a special promotional price during the pre-order period, which I thought was a good idea. I might have to use that one in the future.)
Observation #4: Series where the first book is free sell 66% better than series where the first book has a price tag on it.
This one surprised me the most. The 66% trend was higher than I expected. I have heard authors say putting the first book at free has helped sell the rest of the books in their series. But I also know authors who have had their first book at free and didn’t see an increase in sales for the other books in the series. I have priced the first book of every series I have at free. Some series do better than others. Overall, I have noticed the series does do better if the first book is free, even if it’s not a huge jump in sales.
I just listened to a podcast at The Creative Penn, and Dan Wood from Draft2Digital recommends using this strategy, too. He found authors who do this sell 3 times as much as authors who don’t. (As a side note, he recommends assetless pre-orders, too, which I just talked about above.)
Those are the takeaways I got from the Smashwords 2015 survey. Does anyone have any other ones or have anything to add? There might have been something I missed.