Nine Month Review

Sales, rankings, ratings, reviews and marketing roundup

This has my numbers!

It has the worst marketing mistake I made!

It has a challenge to find a book that beats SoH’s rating!

It has a reading recommendation while you wait for Wild Card!

It has predictions 🙂

This is pretty much the last opportunity I’ll have to feed back on the success of my first phase marketing plan for the Bite Back series, so I’m taking some time out from Wild Card to report. It is also a suitable date for an analysis, as it’s 9 months (plus a few days) after I pressed the Amazon Save & Publish button for Sleight of Hand.

The reason for this being the last opportunity is that, soon Raw Deal will be published, and this prequel novella is being provided free as a marketing ploy. This is a significant change from the original marketing, which was based primarily on price, cover, cover copy, reviews, blogs and interviews.

I am going to limit, for the sake of simplicity, much of what I have to say about reviews and ratings to Sleight of Hand, so the statistics on sales reflect this.

Sales

Sleight of Hand reached 14,665 sales yesterday. 80% of that is from Amazon.com, which includes sales from all of North America, Australia, New Zealand and India. 17% is from the UK. Average daily sales have just dropped below 30, and the forecast (without marketing changes) is to finish the 12 months since publication at about 17,000. Readers of previous blogs will know that would be below my aim of 20,000, but I’m still very happy and slightly bewildered to think there are that many people out there reading my book. I will, of course, report back on the sales effect of providing Raw Deal as a free taster and hope that I’ll still hit my objective.

As a small postscript to sales, I want to mention Germany again. I have not yet arranged for a German translation, so all sales to German readers are the English book. My sales in Germany this month are a mere 2 books behind my sales in the UK. I am delighted!

Ranking

Sleight of Hand missed single figure ranking on Amazon (US and UK sites), peaking at 10 highest-ranked Contemporary Fantasy book in both countries during January. In the US, Sleight of Hand is now ranked below 100 (I don’t follow it any longer than 100th), but in the UK, it has been varying between 40th and 90 over the last few weeks.

It has achieved single figure ratings in Germany, in the English book section of Contemporary Fantasy.

Ratings and reviews

Reviews form a major part of marketing a book, and I have to say this part of my marketing plan has been a disaster. Despite that, unplanned reviews and rankings form the basis of my success. I will explain this after I cover the overall statistics for ratings.

On Amazon.com today, Sleight of Hand has 116 reviews with ratings. These are distributed, highest to lowest, 79, 30, 5, 2 and 0. Amazon’s overall rating is based on a formula adding 5*79 to 4*30, 3*5 etc. and dividing by the total. This gives me a rating of 4.6 by their method. On Goodreads today, Sleight of Hand has 265 ratings. These are distributed 100, 104, 51, 7 and 2. This gives an Amazon style rating of 4.1.

I’m very happy with these ratings.

However, I’m indebted to Mike Gamber for sending me an alternate rating calculator, which takes the ‘positive’ ratings (4 and 5 star) as a percent of the total, including the remainder, which are ‘neutral’ (3 star) and ‘negative’ (1 and 2 star). I know this doesn’t correspond with the rating guidelines on Amazon or Goodreads, but rather the widely held perception of what ratings mean. On this rating, Sleight of Hand achieves 94% on Amazon.com. What Mike pointed out to me was that, given a filter of a minimum of 50 ratings, he can’t find any first or stand-alone book, in any category, on Amazon.com which has a higher rating than Sleight of Hand!

I’ve looked up some of my favorites, and I can’t either (but I highly recommend Huntress Moon by Alexandra Sokoloff which comes in at 92%). But the thing about putting this out there, is one of you will find a first or stand-alone book that scores higher, and the first one will get themselves a free copy of Wild Card when it comes out…

Okay, reviews, which are sort of integrated into ratings, and why I think my planned marketing here was such a disaster…

Indie writers, when launching their book, send it to reviewers to get the reviews going. I’m not talking professional reviewers you have to pay, I’m talking about the infrastructure of hundreds of bloggers who run web sites and post reviews. I did this and I had already failed.

How badly did I fail? I sent out over 100 free copies of the book, including 20 printed copies which I bought and shipped all over the world… I got 5 reviews back. They all scored the book at 3 stars. None of the reviewers who received printed books reviewed it. This is 6-9 months after receiving the book.

Does this mean blogger/reviewers are a waste of time?

No! Firstly, those people scored other books at 5 and said how wonderful they were. They just didn’t particularly like Sleight of Hand or didn’t ‘get it’. Further, I’ve had 5 other blogger/reviewers, who I hadn’t approached, who reviewed the book and they all gave it a 5. Lessons learnt … research your reviewers, find ones you are sure will like your book, or at least ‘get it’, and send them ARCs well in advance of publication. I failed miserably with the planned reviews, but my unplanned reviewers have been fantastic.

The blogger/reviewers and the people who said something on Amazon or Goodreads have provided a strong marketing campaign. But an independent author has no control over this. At best he or she has influence, and that influence comes down to the basics; price, cover, cover copy and of course the best story you can write.

Blogs and Interviews

It’s very difficult to assess the effect of these on sales. I enjoy writing this blog and doing interviews on other authors and bloggers sites. I’ll expand the  blog a bit, do some reviews and recommendations, looking for cross-pollination. And I’m listening if anyone wants something particularly…

Anything else

I’ll keep you posted about any travel plans, and I’d be delighted to sign books or give talks to book clubs if I’m in your area. No dates yet, but I’m in Germany in late summer, Denver and  Albuquerque in the fall…

Summary

So that’s it for phase one of the marketing. Next month, I’ll be watching the effects of a free prequel and maybe looking at putting the books on iTunes.

My predictions for May/July…

I will increase sales and hit the 20,000 for Sleight of Hand by the anniversary of publication.

My rankings on Amazon will go up to where they were, but I still won’t get into single figure ranking in Contemporary Fantasy.

My overall ranking, including the one provided by Mike Gamber, will go down.

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About Mark Henwick

I was born in Africa and left out in the sun too often. An early interest in philosophy and psychology was adequately exorcised by tending bars. And while trying to enroll in a class to read Science Fiction full time, I ended up taking an engineering degree which splendidly qualified me to move into marketing. That in turn spawned a late onset career in creative writing. When not working, I get high by the slightly less conventional means of a small light aircraft. My first book, 'Sleight of Hand' is available on Amazon at http://amzn.to/Sa0D3n

15 responses to “Nine Month Review”

  1. Jonna says :

    Very interesting to read about your sales and ratings and marketing strategies, thanks for posting!

  2. C Hoskins says :

    Thanks Mark, I love your books , gave a 5 star review and shared that to Facebook (!) and can’t wait for your next books. Thanks for your updates, really interesting read.

  3. Mark Henwick says :

    Thank you Jonna and Hoski. I enjoy writing these blogs when I have time, and I’m pleased that people find them interesting. I might throw in some reviews and interviews this year and I’m always open for suggestions about something new that I haven’t talked about before. I usually have an opinion 🙂

  4. Ulrika says :

    Really interesting to hear about all the work behind the books that I enjoy reading. I actually find a lot of the books that I end up buying based on the tips from Amazon. If you get a good review average and get Amazon to suggest the books you can reach new readers.

    • Mark Henwick says :

      Thanks Ulrika.
      Amazon, for all its faults, is the organisation that makes this indie scene work. You can probably tell, from my blogs, that I’m not quite sure how SoH managed to catch Amazon’s eye in the very early stages. They started promoting it by email and the ‘also read’ selection very soon after publication and it snowballed from there.
      This is why I spent quite a lot of this last blog talking about getting those first positive reviews in. Amazon do not have time to read and evaluate new books, they must rely on the reviews to decide which book to promote, and their promotion is vital to newbie authors.

  5. Debra Dunbar says :

    Thanks for this – I always enjoy seeing how other writers are doing out there in the big, bad world.

    My debut novel (1st in a series) A Demon Bound would be at 100% with all 5 and 4 ratings so far. Now, the hitch is that I have really struggled to draw in readers, and my overall sales are around 1% of yours in roughly the same amount of time. I’d gladly trade the ratings score for the additional sales 🙂

    Congrats on your success, and best of luck with the upcoming book!

    • Mark Henwick says :

      Hi Debra
      Many thanks.
      Your book, Demon Bound, has picked up only 5 star ratings apart from one lonely 4 star, and that’s exactly the sort of profile that I would have thought triggered Amazon’s publicity machine.
      You have also done what I believe is the other important thing – you’ve kept writing and publishing – 3 in the series and some naughty fiction too. I’m not sure why there’s the disparity in the effort put in by Amazon. If I took a guess, shooting from the hip, the cover image.But I’m no guru, I’m a guy who’s had a lucky break or several.

      • Debra Dunbar says :

        Hi Mark,
        Great minds think alike 🙂 I did a similar analysis and came to the same conclusions – The entire series will have spiffy new, professional and genre targeted covers by the end of the month. I’m hoping that kick starts an upward sales trend, but I’m worried I missed out on the early momentum. We’ll see! I did a 1 year social media recap on my blog, and in July, I’ll do a 1 year published recap. Fingers are crossed!

  6. Elkwood says :

    I enjoyed your inside look. I have really enjoyed the stories so far !

    P.s Read your 3 imp books Debra enjoyed them ,hope u are able to write
    more stories about that set of characters 🙂

  7. Mark Henwick says :

    Thanks Elkwood, hope the series keeps meeting your expectations.
    Good news Debra!

  8. soireadthisbooktoday says :

    Reblogged this on So, I Read This Book Today . . . and commented:
    Mark’s input on his sales, rankings, ratings, etc. is fascinating reading. It is always a huge question for authors, especially self-published authors. How do you best get your work out there in an efficient, cost effective manner which helps get your work in front of the right people?
    I had to laugh, under “Ratings and reviews” he posts that he didn’t get any good ratings from the people he sent review requests too. I, of course, e-mailed in high dudgeon (we had been conversing by e-mail for some time by now, very pleasantly, about his books, and I had written a rather fawning review . . . ) about how I most certainly HAD written a good review for him. He replied, with a laugh, that yes, I had, but I was one of those “unplanned” reviews he loved so much. Uh, Oh. Yea. LOL!! I read “Sleight of Hand” and was totally charmed by his writing, his characters and his world building. So, of course, being me, I wrote and told him so. That e-mail led to long e-mail conversations which I have very much enjoyed and continue to this day.
    As i was going through my e-mails, I noticed this blog post and realized how smart it is and how helpful I thought it was. Therefore, here it is, and I hope you find it as interesting as I did..
    Now. GO OUT AND BUY MARK’S BOOKS! You will be very glad you did!

    • Mark Henwick says :

      Thank you Leiah!
      More to come soon…did the free prequel (when Amazon eventually made it free) add to the sales to the amount anticipated? Just how good a marketing ploy is it to give away the first in a series, or a prequel?
      Stay tuned…

  9. Maria says :

    I am addicted to urban fiction, paranormal fantasy and pretty much any good read. So far this series has kept me reading through the night and on my breaks. I started with the free prequel from Amazon and just HAD to buy the rest. Your writing style grabbed me from the get go. I am an avid reader and I’ve read many books. Yours are some of the most intriguing and best reads yet. Thank you

    • Mark Henwick says :

      Thank you Maria! Both for the praise and confirming the route you came through the free prequel. It seems to have kept the sales ticking along, and as marketing effort it has one huge benefit – I don’t spend any more time on it and can therefore spend more time on writing. Having said that, Wild Card has been slow to progress (as you see from later blog posts). I am getting it out by Christmas, so not long now!

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