Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Evolution of a Title

Titles are important to me. I've never been able to throw myself into writing a new book until I've come up with a title I love. I'm just not inspired by "WIP" (work in progress). At the beginning of each new story, I brainstorm and tweak until I settle on a title that conveys the right tone. It keeps me true to my original vision and gives me something to write towards. 

The title of my first book, Harvest of Dreams, came easily. I struggled a bit more with the second, A Man Like That, but The Treasure of Como Bluff was really the only choice for my dinosaur-hunter novella. Unwritten Rules was a different story. With it, I was changing sub-genres from Western historical to romantic suspense. I needed something sharper, more contemporary. Also, I was planning a series for the first time and wanted something I could build on for additional titles.

Initially I had planned to call the second book in the Phoenix, Ltd. bodyguard series Boiling Point. In this story, the heroine goes undercover as a personal chef but doesn't know how to cook. As a title Boiling Point is short and punchy (which I like), and connects to the cooking aspect of the plot, but to me it sounds more like a serious thriller than my sassy, romantic version of suspense. So I've been working to come up with something I like better.

I brainstormed a list of thirty possibilities with cooking references: everything from Out of the Frying Pan to Up in Flames. Then, because I learned a few things with Unwritten Rules, I checked Amazon for similar titles. That knocked out many of the more cliched titles. I'm willing to accept a few other books with the same title as mine, but not a few dozen. From there I whittled the list down to five:

Cooking up Trouble
Up in Flames
Fuel to the Flames
Undercover in an Apron
Sauteed, Not Stirred

Then I chose my two favories:

Undercover in an Apron
Sauteed, Not Stirred

I think both suggest sassy suspense. I'm leaning toward one of them but would appreciate any feedback. What do you think? Which is your favorite?

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

My KDP Select Free Days Results - Part 2

In Monday's post, I gave you the straight skinny on my experience during my recent KDP Select Free Days promotion for my romantic suspense Unwritten Rules. If you missed it or would like a refresher, I suggest you read the post below then come back. Today I'm sharing the numbers you really want to see - the reviews and sales figures - as well as what conclusions I can draw after little more than a week.

I ended my Free Days on a Friday night with 19,651 free downloads, so let's look at what happened over the course of the next week. Keep in mind that when I started the promotion, I had just six reviews for this book. I took all counts first thing in the morning.

16 sales, less 3 returns (Fortunately, a friend who had recently gone through this program warned me about the returns. A few people will download the book before realizing it's no longer free and ask for a refund.)
24 sales, less 5 returns
24 reviews; 19 5-stars, 4 4-stars, 1 3-star
31 sales, less 5 returns
27 reviews; 22 5-stars, 4 4-stars, 1 3-star
35 sales, less 5 returns
28 reviews; 23 5-stars, 4-4 stars, 1 3-star
Wednesday (I started to get a bit concerned here)
36 sales, less 5 returns
28 reviews
Thursday (still concerned, but this was Thanksgiving Day)
39 sales, less 5 returns
28 reviews
44 sales, less 5 returns
31 reviews; 25 5-stars, 5 4-stars, 1 3-star
47 sales, less 6 returns
33 reviews; 26 5-stars, 6 4-stars, 1 3-star
55 sales, less 6 returns
33 reviews

Also during this time, Amazon Prime members borrowed 4 copies. Since I will receive almost as much per copy from Amazon's special "pool" for these borrows as I do for a sale, I'm allowing myself to add them to the total count.

So, was it worth it? I think so. Fifty-nine sales are not very many compared to almost 20,000 free downloads, but I'm convinced they're 59 sales I probably would not have had otherwise. The most encouraging factor is that momentum still seems to be growing. During the first day and a half of December, I've had another 6 sales and 5 borrows, as well as another 5-star review. 

Now let's talk about reviews. I know many authors say they never read their reviews. I'm not one of them. I always read my reviews. I take great satisfaction in knowing I've delighted or entertained a reader - particularly a stranger - and this free promotion was my first opportunity to reach a significant number of strangers. I've never had more than 5 reviews for any of my previous books, so 34 good reviews tells me I've achieved one of my writing goals - connecting with readers. I pay attention to the elements people say they particularly enjoyed and will use that information when I plan and write my next books. 

One of the most gratifying aspects of these reviews is that many of them obviously come from non-romance readers. When they tell me the pacing and suspense elements worked for them, it means something. I've also received three great reviews from men, which tells me my writing may be even more mainstream than I hoped. Here's my favorite:

"As a guy I never thought I would read a romance novel but my wife had this out and the cover did catch my attention. My taste in fiction is pretty much John Grisham but he does not publish enough for my reading. The book will definitely keep your attention to the last page as one clever and mysterious plot line after another leaves the heroine and her entourage in dangerous and endangered situations. The only thing predictable in the book was the eventual romance. As someone who has lived in Chicago, Texas and the Central Coast I loved the detailed descriptions of these three places. The book alternates between writing from the male and female point of view so when I tired of reading about shopping trips I was quickly taken to the male point of view. I will look for other books by this author. This might make a good movie."

How can I not feel good about a review like that?

I know the numbers so far are minuscule for a successful author, but they're huge for me. None of my small-press published books did this well in such a short period of time, possibly because the publisher wasn't taking advantage of this program at the time. However, I have seen a definite bump in sales of my backlist, even though they are Western historicals rather than contemporary romantic suspense. In the week after my free period, I sold 16 of the older books, including 6 copies of a novella that hadn't sold a single copy since January. 

Although none of this is going to make me rich, it's a validation that I'm doing something right, and sometimes that's all we need to keep going.

Monday, December 2, 2013

My KDP Select Free Days Results - Part 1

When I decided to self-publish Unwritten Rules, one of the first decisions I made was to release it through Amazon's KDP Select program, and the main factor in that decision was the ability to utilize the "Free Days" option. As many of you know, if you grant Amazon exclusive sales rights to your ebook for ninety days, they allow you to offer it free for up to five days. While it may seem counter-intuitive to offer your book free in order to increase sales, that's exactly what many authors have reported, and I wanted to have the option to try it myself. 

Even though Unwritten Rules is my fourth published book, I am still basically an unknown author searching for ways to increase my discoverability--the magic factor that allows complete strangers to discover and purchase your work. I found numerous books on this topic and read several of them as I planned my marketing strategy (such as it is). The authors offered advice on various ways to try to make Amazon's secret algorithms work in your favor. As with most advice, some was useful, and some I discarded. One point that did make sense was that you want your book to appear toward the top of various category lists so more potential readers will see it. That's what this freebie venture is all about.

Since I am an unknown, most (if not all) sales of my book during the first couple of months were to people who know me personally. I did the usual Facebook and blog tour things, and might have picked up an additional sale or two, but I doubt it. By the beginning of November, sales had completely stalled. The week before Thanksgiving, I decided it was time to bring out the big guns--the Free Days. I documented every detail of the experience and intend to share it honestly with you here. I promise not to sugar coat anything or try to make myself sound more successful than I really am.

I chose 11/19 to 11/23 for my free days, uncertain if I would use them all but wanting the flexibility if I needed it. I had a list of sites that advertise free Kindle books and started notifying them about ten days in advance of my promotion. After a couple of days the biggest two, Pixel of Ink and Bookbub, advised me they would not be featuring my book, and I started to worry that I might not get enough exposure to get many downloads. 

These are the sites where my freebie appeared:
A couple required a minimum number of reviews (4 or 5) with a minimum average rating of 4.0, and that held me up initially. As an unknown, reviews were not exactly pouring in. I had to resort to asking friends and family to post reviews (something I've never done before) in order to get the small number required. As soon as I did, I was ready to go.

During the promotion, I checked my statistics every couple of hours and recorded the pertinent statistics so I could chart my progress and hopefully pull the plug at the most strategic point.
Here's an overview of what happened:
Day 1
11:37 a.m. - 1,766 downloads, #316 in Free Kindle Store, #12 in romantic comedy, #21 in romantic suspense
5:05 p.m. - 5,655 downloads, #83 in Free Kindle Store, #4 in romantic suspense, #5 in romantic comedy
10:30 p.m. - 8,271 downloads, #22 in Free Kindle Store, #1 in romantic comedy, #2 in romantic suspense

Day 2
9:00 a.m. - 9,712 downloads, #16 in Free Kindle Store, #1 in romantic comedy, #2 in romantic suspense
3:00 p.m. - 11,196 downloads, #17 in Free Kindle Store, #1 in romantic comedy, #2 in romantic suspense
9:45 p.m. - 12,928 downloads, #23 in Free Kindle Store, #2 in romantic comedy, #3 in romantic suspense

Day 3
9:00 a.m. - 13,927 downloads, #19 in Free Kindle Store, #2 in romantic comedy, #3 in romantic suspense
3:08 p.m. - 14,954 downloads, #18 in Free Kindle Store, #2 in romantic comedy, #2 in romantic suspense
10:00 p.m. 15,969 downloads, #25 in Free Kindle Store, #3 in romantic suspense, #3 in romantic comedy

At this point, I gave serious thought to halting the promotion (which you can do at any time). The book had dropped off the first page in the Free Kindle Store, and I suspected it might continue to fall. However, it was still performing well in the individual category lists, so I decided to make a final decision in the morning.

Day 4
9:00 a.m. - 17,013 downloads, #21 in Free Kindle Store, #2 in romantic suspense, #3 in romantic comedy
Since the numbers had improved a bit, I decided to continue the freebie but keep a close eye on the trends.
1:40 p.m. - 17,866 downloads, #19 in Free Kindle Store, #1 in romantic suspense, #3 in romantic comedy
6:45 p.m. - 19,023 downloads, #30 in Free Kindle Store, #2 in romantic suspense, #4 in romantic comedy
10:00 p.m. - 19,651 downloads, #31 in Free Kindle Store, #2 in romantic suspense, #4 in romantic comedy

I decided the the KDP Select Free Days had done their job, so I cancelled the promotion. Nearly 20,000 readers had downloaded my book. That's as much discoverability as I could hope for. Now all that remained was to see if it had done any good.

Check back Wednesday for my conclusions and sales figures for the remainder of November.