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Some Quick Amazon.com Statistics / Marketing Lessons for Self-Publishers

Today I thought I'd share some painfully honest behind-the-scenes stats on my current book sales.  Mostly this is for other self-publishers who are curious about getting started, but I also kinda want to put something out there to contrast the overly-glowing "you too can be a millyunaire!!!!" sales talk that self-publishing services like to flaunt.

(Not you, Amazon.com.  You guys are great.  Please don't unpublish my books.)

So, here's the deal.  I'm a one-man operation.  I've got a circle of friends that sometimes helps with proof-reading on a totally voluntary basis, but in terms of marketing, promotion, sales, editorial changes, and all the rest, it's just me.  I'm not especially talented at art or graphic design (yeah, I know, there's not a sarcastic enough "no, shit?" in the world), so when I can afford to pay someone else to help, I do.  When I can't, I don't.

Because my skills and time are both limited, every single step of the self-publication process has been a major learning opportunity for me.  And each time I learn something, I realize how badly I've been doing this so far.  This month's lesson: running ad campaigns and promotional pricing.

In late January, I decided to run an ad campaign on Amazon.com.  I can't afford much, so I set a maximum budget for a total of five weeks at only $150, with a per-click payment of fifty cents.  Basically this means that the most clicks I can possibly get over the course of those five weeks is a paltry 300 - practically nothing, but that's okay.  It's just a tiny push to draw some readers to my product and hopefully get a positive review or two.

Ultimately, that's what all of this is about: reviews.  If I get a decent rating and build up any amount of word-of-mouth at all, then I'm basically getting other people to advertise my product for free.  Assuming my book is any good, of course.

Which it totally is.  Please go download a copy today and find out for yourself.  (It's free until February 11, so you've got nothing to lose.)

But back to my first point.  In order to get people to download the book at all, I needed an ad campaign.  So, I took a stab at some sales text and put something together for Amazon.com to run.  The result?


Well, it's not great.  As of February 6, when I took the screenshot above, my campaign had generated a total of 28 clicks, at a click-through rate of less than 0.5%.  That sounds pretty insignificant.  So... I guess my cover / ad text isn't all that fantastic. Worse, I had a total of zero sales for the first few days.

But here's where I learned my lesson.  Check out my daily unit sales from January into the first week of February:


You'll notice I'd been flat-lining at zero units a day until January 31, at which point I sold 25 books in a single day.  The magic trick here?  I made both of my books free for about a week.

By February 6, the day that both books cost money again, I had given away 48 copies of my books. More specifically: 18 copies of Bitter People Without Souls and 30 copies of I Need a Job.  A more detailed sales report is below.


Now, how many of those giveaways were driven by my ad campaign versus clicks from this blog?  I don't know.  Could be most of them, could be none of them.  The interesting thing to me is that the marketplaces in question are all over the place and match up pretty well with the regional traffic that I get on my blog, so I suspect this site is doing quite a bit more work than I've been giving it credit for.

If my goal is to make money, then a simple read on this is that I've failed pretty miserably.  But I don't see it that way.  In a matter of a week I gave away a total of 48 copies of my books to total strangers, which is more than the total number of books I've convinced family and friends to buy in over a year.  If my goal is just to get exposure, then I'd say this is major progress.  It's a hell of a lot better than zero.

So the lessons learned from this experiment?

1) If you're a total unknown like me, making your books free (or at least cheap - I've reduced the normal price of I Need a Job to only a dollar) is probably your best move to start.

2) Getting somebody else to design your cover who knows what they're doing is sooooo worth it.  Even when both books were free, I Need a Job outsold Bitter People by almost a 2-1 margin, and I highly doubt the former is that much more marketable.  I'm certain the cover is a big part of the difference.  (That and the one 5-star review it currently has.)

I'm running another free book promotion for Bitter People right now, and I'll run another one for I Need a Job as soon as I'm able.  Amazon.com limits me to only five day promotional periods for each KDP enrollment cycle, so if you missed this giveaway, sit tight. I'll announce it when they're free again.  And in time, who knows - I may just go ahead and make one of my books permanently free.  We'll see.

If you've downloaded either of my books, thank you so, so much!  I hope you enjoy and I appreciate you taking the time to get a copy.  If you like what you see, please, please, please leave me a positive review and let the world know.  It's greatly appreciated and will go a long way to making my books visible.

All the Other Nonsense That Got Pushed Off the Main Page (Post Archive)