April 2016 roundup

Lots to talk about as I’ve been quiet recently.

What’s happened

I released the Angel Stakes ebook and the Cool Hand audio. Yay!

Angel Stakes had the biggest first week of all my books so far, both in sales and reviews. Angel Stakes (890) beat Cool Hand for sales by about 40, and generated a massive 40 reviews in that first week alone.

Thank you for the reviews. Just on Amazon.com today, there are already 35 reviews, with only 1 negative. On Amazon.co.uk there are 8, and on Goodreads there are 17.

Thank you also for the feedback on the Facebook page and by email. All good, all welcome.

In the second week, however, Angel Stakes (1,442) has fallen behind both Hidden Trump, which sold 2,078 in the same period, and Cool Hand, which sold 1,498.

Cumulative Sales

Sales is the usual number, cumulative since I started in 2012. I’ve included a column for ‘Pages Read’ – this is the measurement you get when a book is included in the Kindle Unlimited program, but I’ve only tracked this for the last 6 months. Amazon pay on a basis of fractions of a cent for each page read, so the actual effect on my income has been small. For example, those 14,000 pages of The Biting Cold have been worth about $70 to me over the last 6 months.

…                                         Sales                  Pages Read

Raw Deal                            20,637              9k
Sleight of Hand
English                           22,682              128k
audio                              1,504
German ebook              1,571                  106k
Hidden Trump
English                           16,412                91k
audio                               602
German ebook              873                     118k
Wild Card
English                           7,784                  113k
audio                              426
German ebook             529
Cool Hand
English                          4,382
audio                             70
Angel Stakes                     1,532
The Biting Cold                785                       14k

(Sorry about the table. Having trouble getting tables into WordPress)

In summary? I have wonderful, wonderful readers – just look at the reviews. But I don’t have enough of them.

As I’ve said before, my real concern is the drop off between Hidden Trump and Wild Card, and the further drop between Wild Card and Cool Hand. Both are around 50%, which is extremely disappointing, especially given the reviews and ratings, which show no hint of a problem of that magnitude.

What I expected, when I published Sleight of Hand and Hidden Trump back in 2013, was that I’d lose the highest percentage of readers between SoH and HT. The series isn’t for everyone, and SoH gives a reasonable idea of what’s to come. That’s not what has happened.

One positive for the series from the launch of Angel Stakes is the boost it caused in sales of previous books in the series. And, although it’s difficult to make generalizations on the data, it looks as if people who come in with SoH because they saw the reviews for Angel Stakes don’t drop out after SoH or HT – the boost goes through the whole series.

I guess the question the numbers pose is this: am I losing readers because they (1) don’t like the story, (2) don’t like it enough to check for the next release, (3) never see information about the next release and just forget over time, (4) don’t want to invest in a story till it’s complete.

I’m not sure I can do much about (1) or (2). The story is relatively dark for Urban Fantasy, and it’s more complex than most. It deals with real trauma. It’s in a definite minority with the viewpoint on sexual issues. The ‘magic’ is constrained at the moment. All in all, I understand it may not be what people are looking for when they pick an UF title (but would still expect them to leave after SoH, not 2 or 3 books in).

I’m not sure I can do much about (4) either, except grind my teeth. I’m a reader too, I know it’s hard waiting a year for the next episode, but I can’t write this kind of story quickly. I don’t think anyone can. I’m not going to stop writing till the end, but if this was a traditionally published series, the publisher would pull the plug.

Maybe I can do something about (3).

And that leads to Marketing…

Marketing

What have I done?

I moved the prices down on SoH, and tried the same thing on HT. I’ve moved them back up again, and it really doesn’t seem to make much difference. I know other indies have stuck at the $2.99 as the ‘sweet point’, and that Amazon suggests $4.99 is the sweet point.
Susan Illene has stuck with me on $3.99. Debra Dunbar varies her prices up to $4.99. Skye Knizley sticks at $2.99. Connie Suttle varies up to $4.99.
And some of the indies who are acknowledged big hitters… J. R. Rain varies, but tends to $4.99. Lindsay Buroker’s prices all seem to be over $5.

Readers have posted on the website suggesting that a long, complex book is worth a higher price. I don’t know. In the end, a book is worth what enough people will pay for it.

I may put the series up to $4.99.

On other marketing attempts, I put the first three of the series in Kindle Unlimited, where readers enrolled in the Amazon program can read for free, and I get paid on the ‘number of pages read’. That’s in quotes because it has emerged that Amazon is just making it up. Anyway, SoH in English is earning about $100 a month on the KU program. Again, all good, but not setting the world on fire.

I also changed the covers again. It’s difficult to tell whether this had any effect, because I did it at the same time as Angel Stakes was launched. I’m still not happy, but maybe I never will be!

The latest marketing fine-tuning is ‘Tags’. This has a couple of effects.
(1) Tags are used as searchable text in Amazon. So, if I tagged SoH as being about ‘ex-military private investigator’ and someone typed that into the Amazon search field, they’d be offered SoH (among any others tagged the same way).
(2) Tags sometimes link books into best seller lists.

(Here’s a blog talking about the subject: https://ebooksuccess4free.wordpress.com/2013/10/03/7-tips-for-amazon-keywords-and-best-selling-books/)

It’s a subtle business, picking the right tags. I got an easy win by labelling SoH as being about a ‘superhero’. It’s not a widely used tag and that resulted in SoH appearing on the Superhero best selling lists. Visibility on these lists do generate sales. Higher ranking=greater visibility.

At some stage, I would like to do an organized promotion using BookBub, BookGorilla and other newsletters, Goodreads and Amazon. There’s a surprising amount of work involved in these promotions, and they do take away from writing time.

There is a writing task that does promote books – launching new books raises visibility and boosts the back list. But in order to use that I have to write something shorter…

Which leads me to my current project file…

What’s next

Writing & editing:

I have promised for ages to edit my mother’s unpublished murder mystery set in colonial Africa and called So Many Doors. It’s good, really good, but needs editing and a cover. I have gone out and commissioned lovely cover art, and I’m slogging through taking out ellipses and exclamation marks. And a few other bits & pieces. My sister and I should be putting this on Amazon by the end of the month.

I’m drafting up a short story sequel to The Biting Cold, which I’ve tentatively named Winter’s Kiss, and which will weave the story into the Bite Back series. This shouldn’t be long (famous last words), and should be simple (ditto). The only real problem is TBC was really an experiment to write a romance and include a sex scene which was essential and fundamental to the story. (I still got someone commenting that it was gratuitous). The draft I have for Winter’s Kiss at the moment is more like an Amber story with chases and explosions. Amanda does, of course, need another love interest. Or two. It’s just how I introduce that person.

Bian’s Tale 1. Okay. Enough sitting on this. I nearly wrote it a couple of years ago, but it wasn’t quite working. I have some much better ideas now, worthy of the opening chapters. It’s strange I found it much easier to write nine-year-old Bian than fourteen-year-old Bian. For those who haven’t seen them, I’m happy to provide the chapters of nine-year-old Bian as a mobi, ePub or PDF. Email me at the usual contact address.

Bite Back 6. No name yet. Based back in Denver. Full of House Farrell and Adepts and the aftermath of the closing chapters of Angel Stakes. However I promise you to make it simple and short and quick, it will end up complex and long and slow.

Other projects:

I need to resubmit all the books to CreateSpace to provide new print books. This is because I’m late with Cool Hand and I need to do Angel Stakes, and all the covers have changed and the first two books are different sizes and the internal format is different for different books. It’s all a mess and needs putting in order.

My narrator, Julia Motyka will start recording the Angel Stakes audio in September. I need to mark up the text to make sure what I hear comes through.

German translation. I’m undecided. The translations aren’t really paying for themselves.

And I’m looking at some writing-as-marketing projects. These are basically short stories which are also the first chapter(s) of novels, so the short story serves as a teaser for the main novel. I haven’t been able to see how to do this for the main Bite Back story. I have some ideas which may be in the same world, but set elsewhere – one is about a young girl fleeing along the infamous Highway of Tears in Canada, pursued by a terrifying monster.

There’s more. There’s always more, but this post has gone on FAR too long.

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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

17 responses to “April 2016 roundup”

  1. Dee DenBleyker says :

    Hi Mark;

    I love the way you keep your readers posted….it helps to keep you in their minds. I am a little biased towards your work as I really do love your stories. Marketing is important and sexy covers help with the initial attraction. Maybe something with Alex and Amber and a wolf would gain some attention. For whatever it’s worth I check BookBub and BookGorilla everyday so that might actually be a good avenue to pursue.

    Good Luck with your sales.

  2. Jon.Gray says :

    I’ve seen some authors offer a package deal on some of the first books in a series to hook more readers into the series. I’ve bought some like that, but I don’t know how well that works in the long run. Just a thought.

    • Mark Henwick says :

      Amazon are doing a sort of teaser for a package deal on my books, but when you click on it, it says ‘not available’.

      I’ll have a look. At the moment it would need to go through Amazon because I have the first 3 signed up for KU.

  3. Clair Letton says :

    Dear Mark I read your last post with interest and I wanted to let you know that I don’t think you’re doing anything wrong! I devoured Ambers story like a junkie waiting for their next fix. the world you create, the characters within that world are incredible, I want to live in that universe, I want them as my friends! I read Angel stakes as slowly as I could, devouring it in great gulps before slowing myself down to prolong the pleasure. You are a great writer and I can’t wait for the next chapter in Ambers life. Keep the faith 😊 I love your work & look forward with anticipation to see what is in store for Amber, Alex, Jen and the rest

    • Mark Henwick says :

      Thanks Clair. It’s important to my writing engine to hear that sort of feedback!

      I have lots of twists and turns a-coming for Amber and friends. I am kinda committed on the style now, so I’m not going to suddenly change direction and put dollops of romance in or make the stories simpler.

  4. Rocky Wells says :

    Do you have any idea how difficult it is to find well-written urban fantasy that isn’t bogged down in really tacky romance and teen angst? Probably you do, but I love the grit and adult perspectives you give the characters. There is romance but it isn’t overplayed as a primary theme and what is there is well done. I’m honestly surprised the series isn’t a blockbuster as the writing and story are right up there with some of the best. Keep doing what you are doing, Mark, at least insofar as the writing is concerned. Hopefully you will find the right marketing formula to support your work. You certainly deserve success!

    • Mark Henwick says :

      Thanks Rocky! Yes, I do find myself rolling my eyes at tacky romance & teen angst dressed up as Urban Fantasy. Urban Fantasy should be kinda gritty, as far as I’m concerned. The romance-heavy stuff should be labelled PNR and the teen, YA.
      And on the other hand, I hate categorisations. 🙂

  5. Kris says :

    Dear Mark, I really enjoy the Bite Back series. It is a complex story, with a complex love story to boot. At some point I did wonder a little if it was really necessary for Amber to be an Adept as well as a hybrid. But now I got used to the idea I am looking forward to further complications.
    Regarding actors, Chris Hemsworth would be a lovely blonde werewolf…

    • Mark Henwick says :

      Complications R us. It’s even more complex than I believe people are anticipating. 🙂

      Chris Hemsworth does have a wolfy look to him, you’re right.

  6. Toni says :

    Hi Mark, I just recently discovered the Biting Back series through my Kindle recommendations, which is the primary source for me to find new books to read, and have to say that I absolutely fell in love with the series. Scoured through all five books in about a week and half and just finished Angel Stakes last night, and stumbled upon here trying to find information about the next book :).

    I truly hope your books get the attention they deserve, as they are very well written and the world building is superb, in my opinion comparable to Brandon Sanderson, whom I consider to be one the best authors in that area.

    Now to finish Biting Cold to get me past the slump I always get after finishing a really engrossing and captivating book/series of books and even though it is a bit different approach to the world you’ve crafted, I’m enjoying it equally as much as Amber’s story 🙂

    • Mark Henwick says :

      Hi Toni

      Yes, the dreaded post-series hangover. I think we’ve all been there. 🙂

      The Biting Cold is a very different viewpoint. Amanda has no fighting skills and her interest in the Athanate / paranormal world outside of her House is less than zero. This is somewhat of a drawback for her in the sequel, which I’m well on the way to producing. When I say that, I mean I know what I want to write, and I’m writing early draft versions of chapters & experimenting to get the ‘voice’ right. TBC was really an experiment to write a sort-of paranormal romance in the Bite Back world. Winter’s Kiss (if that’s the name I go with) will retain the romance elements, but blend in more of the feel of Bite Back. Look for progress updates at the month end here or on the Facebook page.

      I’m delighted to hear you came on this series via a Kindle recommendation.

      And thanks for the feedback; constructive criticism (positive or negative) is always welcome, and being compared to Sanderson is definitely giving me a boost.

  7. thetaplace says :

    I just finished Hidden Trump and am enjoying it immensely. I will be leaving a very good review on this series. I was slightly disappointed that it wasn’t available as a ‘whispersync’ but downloaded it anyway. I am an artist and enjoy the audible versions so I can work. I love your narrator.
    Will be reading all your work from here on out- I am not a fan of the jump into bi sexual but you make it work at least so far, and I don’t buy the UF books for the sex scenes but again so far so good.
    I think you might find it beneficial to hook up with my other favorite Indie authors Sara King and Hugh Howie- sounds like you are all working out the promo logistics – though Hugh has stuck with Indie for integrity reasons.

    • Mark Henwick says :

      Thanks Theta, great feedback.

      I’m afraid I don’t appear to have any control over the availablility of WhisperSync. As I understand it, as long as the audio isn’t an abbreviated version of the book, Audible/ACX will organise everything with Amazon, including WhisperSync. At the moment, it’s a mess. The available audio books have appeared on Amazon, but the links between Audible and Amazon aren’t working correctly. For example, according to Audible, Wild Card is a detective mystery, and Cool Hand had no Amazon reviews last week. (Fixed now). However, WhisperSync *is* available for Wild Card and Cool Hand. There’s no reason I can fathom for it not to be available for Hidden Trump. I’ll take it up with them.

      I agree, Julia Motyka is a great narrator! It is such a laugh when we Skype each other and try out accents and voices.

      I appreciate you, and many of my other readers and listeners, would prefer the small romantic element of the series to be plain vanilla. 🙂 I chose the path I’ve taken for a multitude of reasons, and I guess, as I’ve said before, it goes where it goes now. It is only a small element of the story, but I imagine some of the fall-out of readers from the series is due to this choice. Thank you for taking it in your stride.

      I know of Hugh Howie and regularly share his fantastic AuthorEarnings reports on Facebook. I’ll check out Sara King.

      I did receive an offer to sign up for a publisher shortly after I published Hidden Trump. I can’t claim it was for purely integrity reasons that I turned it down, but anyway, I’m indie now, though I could be tempted to become hybrid. I would *love* a publisher to handle the print books side of it.

      If all goes according to plan, Julia starts working on the narration of Angel Stakes in September. I’ll make updates on the Facebook page and here.

  8. NathanAEmery says :

    Mark, really interested by your marketing techniques, been debating where to stick my pricing for my book that will launch this month too. Understand the problem there! Great post by the way, and I really envy the hard work you are doing. Got any more tips? Keep writing.

    • Mark Henwick says :

      Nathan, I talk a good talk, but my core marketing sucks. 🙂

      The question of pricing is a difficult one. Genre? Length? Part of series? How long till the next? How much competition at each price bracket?
      People often say start free, but there’s a *lot* of free, and even when it gets downloaded, a startlingly large percentage doesn’t get read.

      I think if I was starting now, but writing Bite Back again, I would make more books from the same threads, and aim to keep releasing every 6 months. Sleight of Hand and Hidden Trump would turn into 3 books somehow, Wild Card would split into 2, etc. etc. I believe the delays between the sequels have lost me (at least temporarily) lots of readers.

      • NathanAEmery says :

        I understand that feeling…. I released two books, originally in print on Kindle and then it has been a while before this one is coming out (not in a series) and that might mean disappointments there. I will try my hand at the KDP marketing thing, but you know the trouble with marketing, money out-no way of knowing a return. The money is supposed to flow to the author, but that is the way things are now. Seriously though I understand your thoughts, they hit the mark. Don’t let it discourage you though-keep writing, say it with me, keep writing!

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