Ebooks, like any product, will only sell in any great number by reaching the right market, at the right price, at the right time.
We've already discussed pricing in an earlier post and the timing issues is less important with ebooks than in other markets: eBooks have no built in shelf life (with the exception of books that feel dated, but that is a long way off). The long tail on sales can see the popularity of any ebook (or indeed, any genre) wax and wane. It's very seasonal - right now books that deal with vampires, or teen angst etc fare well. This changes all the time - it would be unwise to try and write for a particular market solely on the basis of current popularity.
The major issue for ebooks is hitting the right market. Who buys ebooks, how do they buy them, and which ebook buyers will buy my type of ebook?
We know that ebook device owners buy far more than those who don't. Reading on a kindle, nook or tablet is a far superior experience to reading on a PC screen. I'm going to go with my gut, and venture that PC ebook readers make up a miniscule proportion of the market, and that we should pretty much ignore that segment when marketing (or rather, not direct any specific attention to it.).
We also know what the main channels for ebook sales are:
§ Barnes and Noble PubIt!
§ Kobo (Coming soon, but no fees)*
§ Google Books
§ Project Gutenberg
§ Waterstones* (Via a ‘Content Aggregator Account’)
§ Your own website via cart system (e.g. Xuni)
§ POD – Createspace/Lightning Source etc
§ Phone apps – a niche, but a profitable one.
§ or the many distributors such as Smashwords
§ Overdrive (library market)
If you are on KDP select with Amazon, this becomes much simpler. Amazon KDP select typically adds up to 27% in terms of revenue from the lending library (though I expect this to fall as more authors jump on board). The added exposure is also worth a fair bit - typically 6-10% per page you move up in the rankings. So, my rule of thumb here is 'If Amazon is worth 85%+ of your market, go select'. Clearly that's a generalisation, each decision needs to be book specific (and take into account the changing market, especially since Microsoft have recently bought into the sector.
(NB, while I advocate select for those who sell predominantly on Amazon, this is only for the lending element - freebie giveaways may or may not pay off - see here for my thoughts)
If you aren't on select, either because the numbers don't add up or you want have other concerns with going exclusive, then you need to use ALL of those markets to maximise sales. The list is roughly most to least important, but you can hit many of them by going through Smashwords if you don't mind giving them a small cut.
So, we know we want to reach device owners via those channels. Who are they though?An Amazon.com kindleboards survey (done by these guys ) suggests that (as of April 2011 - so a little out of date). This data is based on a sample of 412 users.
Kindle owners are:
· 56% female, 42% male, 2% declined to answer
· 2.3% under 18, 22% 18-34, 38.4% 35-54 and 37.3% are 55+.
· 92% identified themselves as US residents
So, over market is 75% middle aged or older - a huge proportion given it's a technological product. Unsurprisingly the US is the main market, and more women read than men (which conforms to book demographic norms).
I think this data is broadly correct - but with the caveat it's not a massive sample, it's a bit out of date, and is probably influenced by who uses the Amazon Kindle boards a bit much. Under 25s don't tend to use the kindle boards - and children almost never do, so the data is almost certainly off there.
We also need to remember that demographics are genre specific. Few men read romance, few teens go in for historical fiction etc. I won't list demographics for every genre - it would be hugely cluttered, but it's all available on a quick google for those interested.
Once we've isolated who our target market is that brings with it two questions:
1. How do we reach them?
2. How do we avoid advertising to the wrong demographic?
This is where there is no clear cut answer. Advertising methods vary hugely. My preference is for 'opt in' advertising - ask your twitter base, facebook fans, pinterest buddies etc to opt in to a mailing list which gives news on a monthly or bi monthly basis. Give them free short stories or discounts to keep them interest. If someone identifies themselves as part of your market hold onto them - they are gold dust, but are few and far between. A few hardcore fans can be great at advertising for you - they will literally evangelise your work, and help like minded individuals find you.
For most of us, this won't be enough though. Alone, a mailing list might reach a few dozen people, especially if you are a debut indie on a cold start. Chances are you've build up a huge twitter base - how did you get those people?
The biggest pitfall in this area is that indies follow indies. This does nothing for your marketing - we don't buy each other's books that often (I've tried, believe me. I have over 450 indie titles in my bought but to be read pile - but I have 50,000 followers all sending me their book links!).
I think we need to do more to reach readers. One obvious way is paid for adverts - but frankly, the return has diminished massively with the huge number of indies buying adverts.
All the major outlets are booked up for months in advance, and charge huge fees for short promos - this worked early on, but now everyone has jumped on the band wagon it won't work much longer.
We can also reach book bloggers - these guys are your new best friends. Good or bad, reviews sell products, and if you've got a good book they are the kindling that will set your word of mouth advertising campaign on fire. They are free, will give you an honest review, and are generally fair. They also have genre specific audiences - so you are targeting your marketing efforts.
The problem here is they are all backed up - the most popular ones have to be read piles bigger than mine. So, do approach them (politely, professionally and with a tailored email - no BCCing here please!) but it's slow burn. We gave away 50+ copies of Dead on Demand pre-release, but have had maybe 2 reviews from that so far.
The other approach is find them yourself - Goodreads is handy here as the genre boards let you connect with your audience. Shelfari and librarything likewise. You can also search hashtags - #amreading gets you a huge list as do #bookworm #romancenovel etc etc. Just experiment.
Finally, genre forums. Plenty about, just market on those. They are your audience so treat them with respect - don't spam your link. Engage them in conversations, and then slip in the fact you are selling - or better yet let them ask. Hard selling rarely works.
Now we know how to find the right people, how do we avoid the wrong ones? We've all seen it on Amazon - the 1 star review from the guy who doesn't like the genre but bought the book anyway. You'll probably get a few of these sooner or later, but to minimise them don't spam everyone in sight. It's easy to accept every guest post, make every twitter connection and invite every goodreads friend to your launch party on facebook, but if they aren't they right people it will never have a positive effect. At best all you do is waste your time, their time, and possibly your money if you are buying adverts. At worst, you'll get a backlash. This is particularly true for controversial stuff - if you are marketing for niche audiences, or have religious/ sexual themes, be really careful where you market.
Even in crime, I explicitly state Dead on Demand isn't for children. It's very much a grown up murder story. The violence isn't the focus, but murder is rarely clean. The last thing I want to do is upset someone's sensibilities.
So, there are my thoughts. Feel free to add your tuppence worth as always - I'm sure others have had opposing experiences. Some have success with robot messages - or at least I assume they do, otherwise they wouldn't do it. It's just not for me.