Monday, September 21, 2015

Let's Talk Numbers: Do Pre-orders Help Sales?

It's that time again, folks! The second novel in my Heartstrikers series, One Good Dragon Deserves Another, has been out over a month now, so it's time to take a look at the numbers. This time around, we were specifically interested in pre-orders and how they helped or hindered our projected first month of sales.

There's been a lot of back and forth on this in the writing community with some authors swearing by pre-orders and others arguing that they poached from the vital first week sales that are so important to getting your book high on the Amazon lists (which gets you in front of those all important new readers who might not have seen your series before). Never having done a pre-order ourselves, we were super curious, so when we got the chance to try it ourselves with One Good Dragon Deserves Another, we dove right in, and this is what we found!

(Note: Today's post will be presented by extremely talented and handsome husband/business partner Travis, who did all the math, graphs, and analysis. As always, he did a great job! So, without further ado, I'll turn it over to him. Rachel out!)

Hi everyone! The numbers are officially in, and One Good Dragon Deserves Another has done well far beyond our hopes! As Rachel promised earlier in the month, I've put together a ton of numbers, charts, graphs, and analysis for what's been going on with it.

We have a lot to talk about, too! A lot of things happened this time around that Rachel and I have never done before. We had pre-orders, we found a great trick for leveraging the Kindle Big Deal, and we had the game-changer that was KU 2.0 happen right in the middle of it all!

Its going to be a lot so let's get to....

Let's Talk Numbers: Do Pre-orders Help Sales?

So how'd One Good Dragon do? See for yourself,

can you guess when the book went live?
There's a lot to unpack here and that's what we are mostly about today. Let's talk about these numbers. 

One Good Dragon Deserves Another (OGDDA) was available for pre-order from June 1st to July 30th. In total, it had 4565 pre-orders. It was released on August 1st, 2015 so everything on that date and beyond are not pre-orders, just er. orders.

The first thing to notice is that we have a double spike. Normally, there's only 1 spike on release day and then nothing until a promo or sale is done. Here we had two. Once for the announcement of pre-orders and another for launch day. Very cool!

I had absolutely no idea what was going to happen with pre-orders since we'd never done them before. Would they cannibalize our first month sales? Would they get us on a list? Turns out... neither (Though not for a lack of trying on that second one!).

Lists aside, these are really great numbers for us! Here's what I originally predicted for an August release with no pre-order.

What made the difference? (Aside from my just being wrong?) Two main factors. One is that we had an effective 30,000 units of Nice Dragons Finish Last sold/borrowed by August 1st, and the other was pure genius on Rachel's part......

Leveraging the Kindle Big Deal to maximize Pre-Orders

Nice Dragons Finish Last was selected to be part of the Kindle Big Deal in June. This was a surprise for us. We knew we were a candidate, but Amazon didn't formally tell us we'd made it in until about a week before the sale started.

OGDDA was almost ready for publication at this point, and Rachel had a great idea that made us work like crazy for 3-4 days.

She updated the back matter for Nice Dragons Finish Last to have sample chapters of OGDDA, followed by a link to the pre-order. Just in time for the Kindle Big Deal to hit.

I have a Kindle Big Deal - Round 2! post in the works, but that's for a later date. Spoiler: it was great. What's important here is that when those thousands of new readers the Big Deal brought in reached the end of Nice Dragons Finish Last, they found:
  1. A page thanking them for reading and asking for a review
  2. A link to for more books (and to sign up for our mailing list).
  3. Sample chapter for OGDDA.
  4. A page with pre-order info at the end of the sample chapters.
This combination worked far and beyond our wildest expectations. I'm sure a lot of existing fans jumped on board when the pre-orders opened up. Still, since the OGDDA pre-orders greatly eclipsed expected sales, I feel that's a strong indicator that many of those pre-orders were new readers who came into the series during the Big Deal, got excited by the sample chapter at the end of NDFL, and clicked the pre-order link.

Also, this kind of cross promotion helped boost more than just OGDDA pre-orders,
Legend of Eli Monpress Omnibus Sales Rank (last 6 mo)
Look at Eli go! This is Rachel's first series published by Orbit Books. There are no promos going, but you can plainly see when the Kindle Big Deal hits in July. More on this positive cross-pollination in a future post. For now...

How can this work for you?

The Kindle Big Deal is a fantastic way to sell books, but its not something we control. Amazon decides whom it wants to invite and when. That's okay though, because this technique we used of unveiling and promoting pre-orders for a sequel in the back of your previous books (when readers are the most pumped about continuing the story) can work in conjunction with any sale or promo you manage to line up.

Ideally, I want this to be our pattern for any new book release. I see future deals going like this,
  1. Put new book on pre-order 2 months before it comes out.
  2. Line up a $.99 sale and related promo for the book/books that come before it.
  3. Make sure the promo books promote the pre-order in their back matter.
How will this work for book 3+ in a series? I'm not sure, TBH. We'll have to get creative. Rest assured that when we tackle this, you all will hear about it here!

Enough about this though, let's get back to sales numbers. Specifically, our rank over time.

KU, Sales, Pre-Orders, and Keeping Our Amazon Rank High

The last time we did a Kindle Big Deal, NDFL's sales rank shot up, stayed strong the whole month it was on sale, and then sharply tapered back down to normal once the sale was done. This pattern was what I expected this time around, too, but as you can see, that didn't happen...

Nice Dragons Sales Rank (last 6 mo)

Like I said, the Kindle Big Deal was amazing. It started on June 1st for Nice Dragons, which you can easily see in that massive leap up in sales rank. What's highly unusual is how long it stayed up there. You see September's downward slope? That should have happened in July once the sale ended. But it didn't.

And it's not just rank, either. Take a look at this chart, which tracks our sales volume.

The low lines in May is what our long tail usually looks like. June was the Kindle Big Deal, which is always crazy sales heavy, so that's normal, too. July and August, however, are very neat. With the Big Deal over, you can see that we've settled down again but that our KU numbers has gone from 50% of our volume to 75%. (Estimated of course, I'm converting KENP reads to borrows in a very rough manner to get these numbers.)

Furthermore, we have higher regular sales in July as well. As I said above, we should have started seeing a drop here. Instead, it stayed level for 2 whole months. August was a release month, which are always good for sales across all titles, but July was all on its own. So why are these numbers so high?

Initially, we thought the change to KU might be helping uS (since we are benefiting enormously under the new KU system), but those changes were just on the author side. The KU reader experience and the way Amazon uses KU borrows to boost sales rank (1 borrow = 1 sale) are still the same as before. So, with KU out of the picture, our best guess to explain this increase in volume is pre-orders.

We had 2200 preorders for OGDDA in July. That's a good sales month by any accounting, and it corresponded with a commensurately high (or I should say low, but you know what I mean) average sales rank for OGDDA, even though that book hadn't released yet. It's very well known that a good Amazon sales rank brings a lot of visibility, and since OGDDA is very clearly the second book in a series, our best guess is that a lot of those potential readers who saw OGDDA on their screens and got hooked by the cover and blurb went off in search of the first book in the series, resulting in continued high sales for NDFL, even though it was no longer on sale or even being promoted.

This was made even easier by the fact that both books were in KU, making the cost of starting the series effectively nothing. Even better, many of these same new readers probably finished NDFL that same month and then went on to read (or at least buy/borrow) OGDDA, thus adding their clicks to the sales rank of both books!

And if you think I'm overestimating the impact of KU on sales rank, take a look at this.

We see here that KENP makes up half or more of OGDDA's sales volume. Release day being the exception of course. The relationship there seems to be closer to what we see with Nice Dragons. I bet that, going forward, OGDDA will have almost exactly the same sales to borrows ratio as NDFL has.

Consider that KU borrows directly contribute to Sales Rank and I think we can all see just how powerful and important KU is. I mean, ~60% of our sales rank for these two books comes from KU, not from sales. 

(It's a different post, but KU definitely helps your sales rank. Rachel and I have been watching actual sales vs sales rank for a year now, and it is plain as day that NDFL and OGDDA have enjoyed sales ranks FAR above what their normal daily sales would have earned them alone.)

Like it or hate it, KU is a powerful competitive edge on the world's strongest ebook market (and a very profitable one for long books that people read all the way to the end). Ignore it at your own peril.

Moving on, we have one interesting event left to look at before we're done here today.

What about September's Sales?

Going back to my sales table at the start of this post,

OGDDA Book Sales and Pre-Orders (*projected sales total)
What's up with September? Sure a chunk of these are estimated sales since September isn't over yet, but that's still an enormous drop-off! It also falls under my previous Month 2 prediction in the table at the top of the post. How do I account for this?

Maybe, it's KU...

OGDDA is 908 KENP long, but 100% of readers do not finish the book. To account for this, this chart assumes 800 KENP read = 1 borrow
Again, September's numbers are a best guess projection of sales since the month is not over yet, but this still shows us something fascinating. For our previous launches, Month 2's volume tends to be 45-65% of Month 1's. We weren't seeing this on the sales chart above, but once KENP is converted to books, we see that the effective units moved (borrows + sales) once again lines up as expected at that 45-65% of Month 1 number. 

So where'd all the Month 2 readers go? Did they get poached by pre-orders? Did they just lose interest? Thankfully for us, the answer is no. They didn't suddenly stop buying in September, they were all just reading the book in Kindle Unlimited. Mystery solved!

Wow this got long...

I'm gonna stop here. I could talk about numbers all day and all night, but I think I've made my point. My take away from all this is that we scored big leveraging the Big Deal and brought in a lot of new readers to the Heartstrikers series. We also scored big and kept our readership high by going whole hog with both titles into KU 2.0, even when we only had guesses as to how much the new KU system would pay out. It was a smart risk and, for us at least, it payed off tremendously.

I hope that I've provided you with an interesting glimpse into our experience with pre-orders and how they change sales volume! If you have any questions, or if your experiences with pre-orders are different than ours, please let us know in the comments. To see more numbers and publishing business articles, click on the Business tag at the bottom of this post. If you want new posts as soon as they're up, follow Rachel on the social media of your choice (Twitter, Facebook,Tumblr, Google+) or subscribe directly to the blog via Feed Burner.

Thanks again for reading!
-Travis Bach


MrFester said...

Do those numbers include the audio listener ore-orders also?

Kessie said...

A lot of this looks like it hinged on that daily deal. I've heard people mostly complain that Amazon preorders don't count on the release date, thus nerfing your rank. However, over at Joanna Penn's blog today, her guest was talking about how preorders on ALL other platforms count toward your first day rank.
Your books are amazing, and I'm so glad to see you having such great success! I imagine as you keep adding more Heartstriker books, those numbers are going to keep climbing.

Travis Bach said...

No they don't, as we only get quarterly statements. It's almost impossible to do this kind of analysis including audio.

Rebecca Chastain said...

Thanks for another great numbers blog! These are super helpful and inspirational.

Travis Bach said...

@Kessie I can't disagree. We basically used the KBD buzz to generate a second series launch. For several thousand readers, it was almost as if book 1 came out 2 months ahead of book 2. This is a super exciting discovery for us which is why we posted about it. This is a powerful technique to add to the arsenal. We'll happily do this again. If not with the KBD, then with Bookbub. If not with Bookbub, then with a heavily promoted count-down deal, etc...

It would be nice if Amazon let pre-orders count on the first day. The point I was trying to make here is that, while we didn't get that bonus, we weren't penalized by lower first-day sales either. There is an opportunity cost there of course, but IMO no other vendor has an offer so good as what we're getting from KU. We came out ahead, opportunity costs included, in the end.

Denae Christine said...

Thank you for another numbers post! There are especially useful for me, since I am just starting to self-publish. I love all your books (Aaron's, anyway) and all your advice. Your books are much more extreme than I ever write.

Unknown said...

Thank you so much for sharing this info with us. You are killing it! I'm trying to learn all I can about marketing and self-promo, and you are an inspiration. Congrats on all of your success--I wish you more of it :D

Ahne SD said...

Very helpful, thank you for sharing this

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