Thursday, 17 May 2012

How to shift a thousand ebooks

A couple of weeks ago one of my ebooks (Eden’s Trial) was made free for 3 days. During that time it went from selling one copy every two days to 1400 downloads in just three days. It is science fiction, and it went from being #350,000 on Amazon, to being around #800, and from being nowhere to being #3 in SF on Amazon in the UK and #10 in SF in US.

In this blog I’ll cover what we (myself and the publisher) did, why we think it worked, and what happened afterwards.

First, it is important to note that this is the second book in a trilogy, the first (The Eden Paradox) was published in February 2011 as an ebook (and in October 2011 as a paperback), and the sequel was published in December 2011 as an ebook.

Prior to the three-day ‘sale’ of book 2 (April 30-May2) as a free download on Amazon worldwide, the first book had sold several hundred copies in ebook/paperback, and book 2 less than a hundred. Despite the low sales, there were very good reviews mainly on the UK site (14 for book 1, 7 for book 2), with less on the US site (7 and 6 respectively). There is an author page on the Amazon site, as well as a blog and website, and infrequent tweets. I blog about once a week and tweet a few times a week. I don’t use Facebook to sell my books, I use it to keep up with friends. It’s not that I’m lazy about social media as a form of selling, it’s just that I have a full-on day job, and spend most free time writing (book 3, for example, and short stories). I’m not doing this for the money...

So, my publisher (Summertime) decided to do the 3-day sale and it was a very last minute thing, so I simply tweeted about it several times a day, using various hash-tags like #SciFi, #Science Fiction, #ebooks, #kindle, #SpaceOpera, #Writing, etc.

The spike was incredible to watch. It suddenly broke the #10,000 Amazon ranking for the first time, hitting #8,000, then #6,000, and broke into the hundreds by day 2. I don’t know what the actual peak was, but I saw it less than #500. Meanwhile, in the Amazon genre rankings, it got to number 3 in UK in Scifi, number 1 in Germany in Space Opera, and number 10 in the US SciFi category. I suddenly found my book rubbing shoulders with some impressive titles. Even if it was brief, it was nice to say “hello”.

By Day 2, something interesting happened. Book 1 began to spike, and sold close to 70 books in two days (these were actual sales, since this one wasn’t free). In hindsight it is obvious what happened: people downloaded book 2 for free and realised it was a sequel, then saw that for a few dollars they had book one in a kind of ‘2 for 1’ deal, and they snapped it up. This continued for about a week.

When book 2 became ‘un-free’, it slowly trickled back into the #6,000 mark in the UK, then hovered there for a while before heading back to the >10,000 region. Having shifted 1400 free copies, after the ‘rush’, 35 copies were sold in the following week, similar for book one. At the moment both books are settling back down.

The reasons for any spike at all can’t be taken for granted. There are many free ebooks that don’t ‘sell’, so why did Eden’s Trial do relatively well, given that it is genre fiction, and there has been no media hype, and I’m an unknown author?

First, I think the cover has something to do with it, and some of the ‘headlines’ from Amazon reviews (e.g. ‘Galaxy-bending SciFi’), the brief description on Amazon, and the suggestion that it is a bit different (called market differentiation) from other SciFi (aliens are smarter than humans) whilst still being easy to ‘nail’ in the market: Eden’s Trial is ‘Space Opera’; The Eden Paradox is a science fiction thriller, falling into Amazon’s Scifi/Mystery category. If you’re an author reading this, you really have to know where to ‘peg’ your book in the market, and ensure Amazon puts it there too.

A second point worthy of note, is that until the free 3 day sale, the book’s price was relatively high ($9.30) for a Science Fiction ebook by an unknown author. I have a hunch that a number of people who had perhaps read blogs relating to this book before, might have balked at the price, and so snapped it up when it went ‘free’.

Was it all worth it? After all, how many people who download free ebooks actually read them? When something is free, people can get greedy…

Good questions. From an author perspective, even if only a quarter of the people who downloaded read it, it has been a great way to get it out there to a completely new readership, who I hope may like it, and either review it on Amazon or tell others about it. I also hope a few more will buy Book 1 (and Book 3 when it comes out at the end of the year).

From a commercial perspective, it’s too soon to say. It’s not quite like giving away free paperbacks, where you lose money hoping sales will compensate later. Obviously we’d hoped for a more lasting sale following May 2nd, but perhaps it will come later when more people have read it. As an author, you have to have a little faith in your work…

So, what did we learn? First, if you’re selling thousands of books, you probably don’t need to consider such a course of action. Just keep doing whatever it is that you’re doing (right). Second, maybe a one-day ‘free’ sale is a good strategy – 3 days may allow too much market saturation. Third, if we do it again (e.g. with Book 3), we’ll probably build it up a bit first. Fourth, this thing does pay off if you have multiple books, especially trilogies, series, etc. John Locke in his ebook ‘How to sell a million ebooks’ [give it that title, LOL] he does point out that he pretty much got nowhere until he had five books out there. That was when things took off maybe because of synergistic buying where people saw one book and realized there were more (people like to know there is more of a good thing). This seems to be going on right now with the runaway success ‘Shades of Grey’ and its sequels, three of which were in the top 10 the other day when I looked.

If nothing else, it gave me fresh motivation to work on the finale of my particular trilogy, Eden’s Revenge. It can be tough as an author spending years on a book to see meagre sales, and when a boost like this happens, for whatever the reason, it’s a good thing, for while authors need money like anyone else, what they most want is to be read.

The Eden Paradox is available as paperback and ebook from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Ampichellis and Waterstones (UK).

Eden’s Trial is available in ebook from Amazon and is coming out in paperback later this year.

Eden’s Revenge will be out as an ebook for Xmas 2012.


  1. Barry,

    I'll tell you my tale. I'm a science fiction fan, avid reader, and computer programmer from th U. S. I saw your book on the Kindle Deals email from Amazon. I've read (or started to read) several books I got for free from Amazon. But have finished few of them because many of them are poorly developed, poorly written, and I could not force myself to finish them. I read the Amazon reviews on both books, downloaded and started reading "Eden's Trial". After the first chapter, I bought "The Eden Paradox" and started over at the beginning. I'm nearing the end of "Eden's Trial" and can't put it down. I can't wait to buy and read "Eden's Revenge" . Many thanks for a captivating series.

    1. That's great to hear! Feel free to post a review on Amazon in US, as most of my 'following' is in the UK for some reason. I'm about a third of the way through Eden's Revenge, a big battle looming at the end of Part One, some great new aliens, but I'm afraid someone good is going to get killed off...

  2. I was one of those on Amazon that picked up the second book because it was free. I'm not even sure how I found out about it, but I know I wouldn't have discovered you if you hadn't done the sale. I definitely had never heard of you before, but I was looking for something good to read. Since it was the second in a series, I had to buy the first. This was not a problem since you were nice enough to give the second one for free. We definitely love our two for one deals. Since there is a third coming, I will definitely be buying it also. It was evident early on in the first book that you are a quality writer that doesn't just write the next word. You create an entire universe to write about and keep it all together. I am excited with what you wrote, and I can't wait for the next one. Who knows if it was a good idea to do the sale, but I am glad you did. I will do my best to spread your words. Keep up the good work,

  3. Thanks Steve, glad you're enjoying them! Spreading the word is very much appreciated!


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