Monday, November 9, 2015

Let's Talk Numbers: Selling Books Sells Books

Trav has put together an amazing post for you guys looking at what factors make a book's sales rank go up once the initial release frenzy has ended, but first...

I'm the Kindle Daily Deal for BOTH of the books in my Heartstrikers series today!! That's right, both Nice Dragons Finish Last AND One Good Dragon Deserve Another are on sale today only for $1.99, so in other words I'm getting nothing done today due to massive Amazon sales rank stalking ヽ(^◇^*)/!

(Chelsie shows up behind me)

Um...maybe writing will be getting done after all! (types frantically)

Anyway, that's what's exciting in my life today. I'm still live answering writing questions on my NaNo thread, so if you have a burning question about writing, feel free to pop over and ask me anything! And now, as promised, here's Travis and his really impressive tea leaf reading of Amazon's sales rank charts, how they change over time, and what we as authors can do to make them move in our favor.

Take it away, Travis!


Hi Everyone,

I've got a treat for you all today! Serious usage of Rachel's author central sales rank graphs! Today I'm going to show you which events over the last several years have made the biggest differences in Rachel's book sales. But first,

I was originally expecting to talk about how the best thing to do to sell books is to write more books and how promo is over rated. I felt that we (and modern authors in general) focus on marketing a lot because its the one wheel we can crank outside of writing to help sell books... I even rounded up a lot of sales data for ya'll to show this. Except that, when I got our data together, this wasn't a black-and-white truth at all.

True, writing more books is a great way to sell more books. Really though, the truth is that,

Selling Books Sells Books

Turns out sales beget sales, and some promotions are almost as effective as releasing new books is. However, cross-promotion is key to maximizing the impact of your sales spikes.

Let's take Nice Dragons Finish Last for example,

NDFL Sales Rank - Lifetime

So, we had the launch of Nice Dragons and of One Good Dragon, which created spikes and generated quality sales. We also had super luck in getting 2 kindle big deal promotions and a Bookbub. At this point, extra sales generated from promotions are a generous portion of overall volume. Especially considering their effect on the long tail.

It will probably come as no surprise that One Good Dragon benefited from these events.
OGDDA Sales Rank - Lifetime

I arrowed all the major sales events here, but the opening of pre-orders and the book launch are pretty expected. What I really like is the bump (which was about 100 books worth) we see over there on the right during our Bookbub based mega-promo.

So overall, the Heartstriker's series sales have been driven more by promotions than by book releases. Pretty crazy aye?

What about books in our other series?

All Heartstrikers books have cross-promotion for Eli and Paradox series in their back matter. I wondered how all these great sales days might have influenced Fortune's Pawn and The Legend of Eli,

The last year of Eli Omnibus 
Eli is a little hard to see, so I put a sort of moving average rank onto my chart. There was a very pretty excel sheet that showed this, but errors ensued and it is sadly no more. Sorry for the MS Paint graph. (︶︹︺)

Point here is the constant promos for Heartstrikers has been helping hold The Legend of Eli between 10000 and 50000. It would likely be cruising in the 50,000 to 100,000 range right now otherwise.

Sadly, Heartstrikers sales don't seem to translate into sales for the Paradox series. This isn't due to lack of cross-promotion on our part. I think that the different pen name and very different nature of the books means a lot of the new readers aren't jumping on it.
Fortune's Pawn Sales Rank - Lifetime
The Fortune's Pawn chart is a much more standard, Trad-style of chart.

You can see the steady release schedule of the trilogy. Orbit got it on the kindle daily deal once the series was done. Which was awesome and was just as big and influential as a book release. Then nothing, cause the series was done and publishers just stop promoting and doing things with a series once its done. Which blows my mind. Its just so wasteful, but NY is a culture of debut authors and farming for that next big hit. They don't want to perpetually grow and promote a perfectly good series.

We don't do much with these series either, but for a completely different reason. We can't. We can't change their covers, prices, distribution, front matter, back matter, or anything. We also have absolutely terrible visibility into their performance. Sales rank seen here is, (1) only a measure of sales and not actual sales and (2) only measuring about 40% of its overall sales volume (since they are in print traditional and foreign). So we can't measure if said promotions were effective unless they are truly epic (like Kindle Daily Deal).

These restrictions make effective, direct promotion of these series almost impossible or prohibitively expensive due to all the inefficiencies. That doesn't stop me from trying to tea leaf read when something is going on though haha

Anyway, I've learned a lot putting this post together. Before I get into that part though, I'd like to talk about how eBook sales helped audio and other formats.

What about Audio?

How'd all the promotions and attention affect the audio sales? Folks have asked me this on the last several posts and I usually just have to shrug and say IDK. However, I was always looking at quarterly royalty statements, which aren't useful. Then, Rachel pointed out that we get sales rank data on author central for audible titles. I can't believe I didn't see this before!

NDFL Audio Sales Rank - Lifetime

Finally some visibility! Turns out that the Nice Dragons audio book has greatly benefited from our other efforts. You can see the big deal, the OGDDA launch, the Audible 5-stars promotion, the Bookbub mega fall promo, and one other bump that I can't explain. (Need to look into that one).

(Update: That would be the launch of One Good Dragon on audio. Derp derp! I can't believe I didn't see that.)

I'm hoping to combine this with next quarter's royalty report to get an idea of how many sales these spikes represent. Suffice to say though, the audiobook edition responds very well to promotions of the ebook. How much of this is because of the Amazon-Audible integration? Probably a lot.

And lastly, print

There's not much I can say here unfortunately. 
NDFL Print Edition Lifetime Sales Rank
NDFL Print Edition Sales Rank - Last 6 months

Print edition sales of Nice Dragons don't seem to be affected by really anything we do. While its a tad disappointing,  its not really an important factor for us. We primarily offer the print edition because there are fans and readers out there who want, need, or just prefer print. Its priced just barely over margin.

Yeah. Moving on! What does all this sales data tell us? What do we DO with it all? How do I plan?

What I've learned from this

Releasing a new novel is the best card you can play to boost sales. Pre-orders seem to help as well since you get a mini-launch sort of effect, allowing one book launch to provide 2 boosts. Even if you write books crazy fast, that's a very limited lever to pull.

So what else is out there? Well, its a cheat, but #1 also best is to have a really good book. So many of these promotions and amazing opportunities came to us. They came not because we paid for them, or had great social media stats (we don't). They came because the books are great. This is why we always say that a good book is the most crucial component of any author's career. 

More practically speaking (because you're already writing the best you can right?), there's several ways of making book sales spikes and of getting them to move across your shelf.

  1. Start of pre-orders
  2. Book goes live
  3. Bookbub or similar promotion
  4. Launching a book on a new medium (mainly audio)
  5. Getting lucky*
  6. etc..**

*you have to be willing and able to jump on opportunities. Smart risks people!

**there's more tactics out there than on this blog. We've never tried being in a multi-author boxed set, but I've heard it can do wonders. Also never tried putting out an omnibus (self-pub) edition to help get new readers into a long-running series. We've also never done A/B testing with categories or blurbs. We've never tried a recover and relaunch. There's a LOT out there I have no data on yet.

In the end though, luck and action, for me, this all comes down to timing.

Mixing what you can and cannot control

Let's look back on that NDFL graph, it shows the ideal situation in my mind.
NDFL Lifetime Sales Rank
I'll admit, we got lucky on so much. When we weren't lucky though, we could make enough happen to keep the book up there. There's a 6 month stretch where we entered the long tail on NDFL. That's our fault mainly though. It was a tough time, I was really sick, Rachel was overburdened, everything suffered...

Point is, Nice Dragons has otherwise generally benefited from having something happening every month or at least every quarter. You can see how well this sort of mix of luck and action works. Luck running dry? Look at what you can do. There's lots of options out there. LOTS. Not everything can be piled up to make giant spikes though. You need to know your tools and how best they operate. That's why I spend so much darned time gathering data, looking it over, and blogging about it.

When faced with chasing a lucky break or opportunity vs doing something we can do any day, Rachel and I tend to bet. We chase the chances when they feel good and back burner our more deterministic options for the dry spells. Part of my job is evaluating those risks and figuring out if they are worth it. 


That's enough graphs for one day

I hope you've found this long winded analysis to be interesting. Really, if you read this far, I'm super impressed. Thanks for all your time and attention! w(°o°)w

If you have any questions, please drop them in the comments. You can also hit the contact form on and Rachel will send you my way.



Kessie said...

Ah, very interesting! I hear the sage advice "write another book" all the time, so it's educational to see that promos are a Big Deal. In my tiny pool of limited experience, new releases and promos go hand in hand. I don't sell a thing when I'm not promoting. Entropy and all that. Thanks so much for sharing!

Zsquared said...

Do you think the Paradox numbers (and their lack of movement after publication) will affect your choice to go indie or trad publishing on future projects?

Travis Bach said...

Indie vs trad is a very situational choice for us. As in, it depends on the project. Some projects, like literary sci-fi, need that big publisher cred and push. Others are projects, like Nice Dragons, that don't fit well with trad and thus we launch as indie.

Jimney said...

Aaah. I'm always very impressed with your posts, Travis. (Perhaps mainly because all these graphs and stats seem a bit (very!) Chinese to me, and you're doing such a good job of explaining it in a way even I get most of it!) Thank you for the insight!

Rae said...

Hi Travis, thanks for the great graphs!
When you say lucky, do you mean that Amazon picked you for the Big Deal? It's not something you applied for?

John Adam said...

What website sells cheap books?
amazon buy back books