Tuesday, March 30, 2010

What sells on Amazon?

I've had a good month on Amazon this month (I'll report figures on the first, when the month is over). I've seen other authors reporting similar sales numbers to mine, and of course there are a few indie authors who are always way, way up on the bestseller list, and who are presumably kicking my ass, saleswise. So I'm doing well (at least in terms of copies sold), but I'm certainly not the only one.

So what makes an indie book sell well on Amazon? I don't know, but I can make some educated guesses. Putting aside luck, which clearly benefited me greatly this month *waves gratefully at Books on the Knob*, the better selling indie authors do seem to have some things in common:

1. A good sample. By "good" I do not mean Shakespeare. Some of the better-selling authors still have a slightly unpolished quality about their writing. Sometimes they have comma problems, or a choppy style, or issues along those lines. Some, of course, write wonderfully. But even those who have some distance left to go show a talent for storytelling and an ability to string words together. I read a lot of samples, and thus far, I haven't found an author who's selling well with one of those sheerly awful samples. Yes, there is plenty of crap on Amazon... and it sells exactly as well as you would expect crap to sell. So if you want to sell well on Amazon, you do need a decent product.

2. A nice cover. Again, by "nice" I do not mean that it looks like it was produced by a major publishing house. Few of us have the talent for that. I do not flatter myself that people are looking at my covers and thinking, "Oh, that looks just like an Avon cover!" Of course they're not. But the covers that are doing well generally look appealing and have eye-catching elements. For example, here's a nice-looking cover from an indie author who's regularly been in the top few hundred of the Kindle store since I started observing it:

3. Careful promotion. A simple fact of life: People don't know your book is out there unless you promote it. Your book is going to be lost amidst gazillions of other books unless you let people know it's there. So you do need to promote it on the appropriate threads. Getting obnoxious about it, however, or even being perceived as being obnoxious about it, will lose you sales. There's a fine line to be walked here, and I'm still figuring out exactly where it is.

4. To quote J.A. Konrath, who certainly knows what he's talking about: "Being on the Kindle genre bestseller lists." This is probably the biggest reason I've sold this well this month-- two of my books got onto the contemporary romance lists, and they remained on them much of the second half of the month, off and on. This is how casual browsers find you. Of course, you can't just wish your way onto those lists. Much of what got me there was luck. But I believe that what kept me there for the rest of the month was the fact that I...

5. Have a low list price. Yes, it is frustrating to practically give your book away. You spent a long time writing it, and it's worth as much as any mass market paperback in Barnes and Noble, darn it! I know how you feel, believe me. And maybe in June, when all the indie authors raise their prices to $2.99 en masse, you may not have to price it so low. But right now, the low list price is what's going to get you noticed. I currently have all my indie books priced at 99 cents. Go ahead and try $1.99, or even $2.99. It may work for you (and your success may depend on the genre you write in to a certain extent, too; I haven't quite figured that out yet). But just remember, there are well-known, bestselling authors Kindling their backlist. Are people going to shell out $1.99 on you, an indie author they never heard of, when they can spend the same amount and get a book by J.A. Konrath or Lee Goldberg? It's something to keep in mind, at any rate. At the least, you might want to have ONE book at 99 cents, to encourage readers to take a chance on your writing and get to know you.

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