One More Time on a One Day Sale

One More Time by Deborah Cooke

One More Time, the third book in my Coxwell Series of contemporary romances, is on sale today (for one day only) for just 99 cents. The price will vary slightly in non-US markets, depending on the currency conversions at each portal, but it will still be heavily discounted today only. Here are the links, so you can grab your copy.

Amazon

Apple – US

All Romance eBooks

Barnes & Noble

KOBO

 

I hope you enjoy Matt and Leslie’s story!

Thoughts from BEA

I had an interesting time at Book Expo America, primarily because the wholesale book show was so different than the last time I attended—and that was only two years ago.

First off, it was a smaller show. The booths of Big Six and midsize publishers were smaller in size, yet a lot of smaller publishers also had booths. I don’t recall seeing so many digital-first presses at the show before.

One thing that was very exciting to me was that there was a booth hosted by six bestselling indie authors: Bella Andre, Stephanie Bond, Tina Folsom, Barbara Freethy, Hugh Howey and CJ Lyons. It’s not been common to see authors with booths, and totally out of the norm for them to be so crazy-busy. They were the highlight of the show, IMO – and Bella Andre was on the cover of the show edition of Publishers’ Weekly magazine, as well. This was one of the many signs that publishing is changing.

There were other indications of transition, as well, including ads and booths targeting indie published authors, offering services for those authors. That was new. Previously, BEA was all about publishers and offering services to them – authors were not particularly welcome at the show, unless they had been invited by their publishers for the purpose of promoting their books. Authors arrived, signed their books, and left. The business of publishing was left to publishers and agents. But the focus of BEA is changing: their reader day had 2000 attendees this year, a vast increase over the 500 Power Readers who booked last year. Publishing needs authors and readers. You’re probably not surprised by that, but it seems that many people in the biz still are.

I only attended the Power Reader day (Saturday) which was fun because it was so busy. The show was filled with enthusiastic readers and fans. The line up for a free copy of Sylvia Day’s book was huge! I was lucky to see Syl in passing and have a chance to give her a hug. She’s doing so well, and that’s exciting. My only official appearance was to sign postcards for free downloads of Double Trouble from KOBO in the Kobo Writing Life booth. The best part of this was that I had a good chat with the Kobo people, and also that I met up with Joy from Joyfully Reviewed again. That was wonderful!

I realized a bit late that I could have signed books there – my badge was from RWA and two years ago, authors could only book a signing in the RWA booth with books from RWA-approved publishers. As a result, I never even thought to book a signing with my indie books, but I could have done it because that rule has changed. So, next year, I’ll sign in the RWA booth. :-)

My main goal at the show was personal contact. One of the frustrations with digital publishing portals is that it’s very hard to contact an individual to get something fixed, or even to find out why something is displaying how it is. Most of their helpdesks are anonymous, and each request goes to a new individual – even if you’re continuing to pursue the same unresolved issue. This can be a huge time sink, and doesn’t always lead to a resolution. (Yup, it’s frustrating!) At BEA, though, I was able to talk to real people and get connected to find solutions. All of the indie portals had booths and I had a list of questions. As a result of that trip, I’m hoping to soon have my books properly displayed on Nook UK – something I’ve been trying to fix for months – to verify and correct my book listings on Overdrive, and to work out some kinks at Smashwords. I talked to ACX about taking my books to audio, which is pretty exciting, and to NetGalley about having my books available to reviewers in advance of publication. Neither of these options existed for indie authors two years ago. I also talked to Califa about selling my books directly to libraries, another option that is entirely new for authors.

In the end, I came home with sore feet, a pile of information and my head spinning with possibilities. My To Do list has gotten longer again! I will go to BEA next year, though, and have a good plan as to what I need to do to prepare for that trip. I also made some modifications to my plan for RWA National in July, based on what I learned at BEA. More about that closer to the date.

Digital Book Sales Patterns

Last week, we reviewed the sales numbers of my two Bride Quest trilogies, one of which is still being distributed by Random House and one of which has been re-published in new editions by me. I mentioned last week the differences in sales patterns in digital books released by indie-authors as compared to those from traditional publishing houses. Today, we’ll talk about that.

The Bride Quest I Digital Bundle by Claire DelacroixWe have a perfect point of comparison here. I wrote two medieval trilogies, the Bride Quest I – to which Random House still holds the rights—and the Bride Quest II—to which I hold the rights. All six of these books were published roughly ten years ago in mass market editions and subsequently (in 2009) published in digital editions. These books are on level ground in many ways: they’re in the same sub-genre; they’re published under the same author brand; they have the same tone; they have a similar premise; they are even linked to each other; they were packaged and published similarly; they sold at very similar levels when originally published.ClaireDelacroix_BrideQuest_BoxSet_200

And here’s our point of comparison: there were digital boxed sets published for the first time last year for both trilogies. On June 25, 2012, Random House published a digital boxed set of the Bride Quest I. On March 12, 2012, I published a digital boxed set of the Bride Quest II. The sales patterns for 2012 for these two bundles present an excellent opportunity for comparison.

The results might not be what you expect. RH’s bundle was priced at $14.99. (Even more astonishing, the library edition was $71.91!) My bundle was priced at $4.99 for 2012. Raw sales units for June to December 2012 were 547 for the RH bundle and 900 for mine. Not so much difference there, but the difference that exists can probably be attributed to the price point.

What’s more surprising is the pattern of sales. First up, the sales chart for the RH bundle:

BQI

I have weekly sales data from RH, which shows the sales pattern quite clearly. A huge chunk of the sales for the RH bundle were made within two weeks of the on-sale date. Sales of the bundle spiked and dropped. This pattern is characteristic for sales of books from traditional publishing houses, regardless of format. An editor once told me that 80% of any book’s sales are made in the first 14 days that it’s available for sale. That’s why all promotional efforts are focused on the on-sale date, when the book is supposed to make a big splash. That’s why no one in bookselling cares that mass market books are stripped of their covers and removed from the stores in 2 to 4 weeks. Essentially that title’s moment in the sun is over and it’s time to move on to new releases.

This sales spike is supported by the mechanisms available through online bookstores. Because publishers like to build as big a spike in sales as possible on the on-sale date, online booksellers allow customers to pre-order books in either digital or print format. The sales that are gathered in advance are all processed on the on-sale day, counting as sales for that day even if the customer placed the order six months before. A big advantage of this system is that consumers can’t forget to buy a book when it comes out: they just order it when they think of doing that. Currently, it’s only possible for indie authors to list a book for pre-sale on KOBO and that’s a new capability. It might very well be that indie book sales would show more similar patterns to books sold by traditional publishing houses if we could set up for pre-orders—or not. We won’t know for sure until that capability is available on other portals.

Sales of my bundle take a different pattern. Here’s my sales chart:

BQII

Now, I only keep monthly sales data, but in a way, that’s not too important. My sales don’t show those kinds of radical highs that are characteristic of traditional books being promoted on their on-sale dates. Sales are fairly consistent with little wiggles and a gradual ascent.

Let’s look more closely. There are a bunch of things happening in this chart simultaneously. First, let’s look at that initial leap in sales – it’s not a spike but the beginning of a climb, and it’s not a coincidence that it happens in June. There are two contributing factors to that jump in sales numbers. First of all, I had put The Countess into the KDP Select program at Amazon in March. That program requires a 90 day exclusive with Amazon for the title in question. As a result, the BQII boxed set (which included The Countess) could only be distributed to Amazon during those 90 days. The exclusivity period ended in the middle of June, and I immediately published the bundle to other portals. The thing is that in June of last year, I was still using Smashwords to feed to all other portals. In June, BQII was still waiting in the line for approval for that distribution and very few units sold directly through Smashwords. The extended distribution is more of a factor in the sales growth of July and August, when BQII became available for purchase at the other portals.

The main factor driving that June leap is the publication of BQI. There’s an old saying  in publishing that frontlist sells backlist. In this case, BQI acted as frontlist because it was the new release. The visibility of the new publication (such as it was) increased demand for the linked series, BQII. That makes sense.

There’s one more factor that is shaping these results: all of my medieval romances took an uptick in June of last year. Nothing happens in isolation when you have a broad and deep backlist like mine – that last factor was the promotion of another Delacroix medieval romance. The Beauty Bride, book #1 of the Jewels of Kinfairlie, was free for the first time in May. The ripple effect from that promotion is still shaping the sales of my medieval romances, but we see the uptick in both BQ’s in June, quite possibly influenced by the raw numbers of people reading TBB. It’s also possible that the publication of The Renegade’s Heart in May, my first Claire Delacroix medieval romance published since 2005, also increased visibility for both digital bundles.

Finally, let’s compare the overall sales patterns for the boxed sets.

Comparison

The top line with the red dots is sales of BQII, the one managed by me. The lower (and shorter) line with the yellow dots is BQI, managed by RH. There is a little goofiness in compiling the RH data into monthly numbers because their bundle went on sale the 25th of June – those June numbers are only for one week. If we gathered the first four weeks together (1 in June and 3 in July) instead of compiling by calendar month, the spike would be emphasized more than it is here.

We can see that the sales for indie-pubbed bundle are wavering their way to growing over time, instead of spiking and dropping. There is no similar focus on the on-sale date. The differences are interesting.

On the one hand, this is a function of online book sales. The algorithm at each online retailer learns more from every single sale of a given book. It builds data on an ongoing basis—data like “people who bought A also bought B” and “people who read Author A read Author B”—then can make better recommendations to shoppers. It takes a lot of data to find patterns and the more data there is, the more accurate the system’s recommendations will be. Because a new digital release has no data (i.e. there was no BQII boxed set available in any format before my publication of one), it’s very common for an indie release to have to rouse itself from flat-line sales. Over time, the accumulation of sales data makes the algorithm more effective. It suggests the book to more shoppers and gets it right more often. It’s common in indie publishing to see a snowball effect over time, and to see sales continue to grow for digital books. This is called long-tail marketing.

The thing is that both of these bundles were digital-only and both of them were new titles. Why did the RH one sell so differently? You can see on the chart for RH that the same pattern of increase thanks to the algorithm is asserting itself a little bit but not as vigorously as with my bundle.

With over 50 titles published traditionally, I’ve seen the spike-and-drop sales pattern 50 times. Every single book’s sales have adhered to that pattern. Sales dribble along after the drop, and usually there’s an increase when a new title in that series or under that author brand is published. The shape of the curve is completely predictable, even if the size of the original spike isn’t. On the other hand, I have about 25 titles indie-published, and their sales patterns range from steady sales for some titles to fairly erratic ups and downs on others. There are a number of sales patterns on my indie books—except for spike-and-drop. It’s the one pattern that none of my indie titles show. I think that’s weird. They also all show a gradual increase in sales over time—the gross sales may not grow month by month, but they certainly grow year by year. That’s never been what happened with my traditionally published books.

Prior to this little exercise, I had attributed the difference to the fact that my indie books are primarily digital releases, although they are simultaneously available in POD, while my traditionally published books had been primarily mass market originals, although for the past 6 years or so, they’ve been published in simultaneous digital editions. This example, though, shows that’s not the case. Both boxed sets were new releases and digital only. Certainly, the fact that indie authors don’t have the ability to set a title for pre-order is a factor in not seeing that sales spike, and another is possibly the fact that most of my indie titles are republished backlist.

I have a feeling there’s another variable, though. It could be an effect of pricing. It could be that results are being shaped by assumptions—because assumptions are determining other marketing choices. It could be something entirely separate. I’m going to keeping an eye on the sales curve for my upcoming indie original titles, to see how they shape up.

As you might have guessed, I have a Theory to test.

Talking Dirty

In all the years I’ve been published, it’s been considered unacceptable for authors to talk about the money they make from their work – particularly if authors are comparing their earnings. We still do it, so I’ve always referred to these discussions about money as “talking dirty”. I thought this week, I’d talk dirty and share some data that will help you to see why I (and a lot of authors like me) love indie publishing.

Once upon a time, I sold a trilogy of medieval romances called the Bride Quest to Dell Publishing (The Princess, The Damsel, The Heiress). I later sold a second medieval trilogy to them, called the Bride Quest II (The Countess, The Beauty, The Temptress). Because I had my fabulous agent for the second trilogy, the contract terms were much better – and the rights to those three books have reverted to me.

ClaireDelacroix_TheCountess_200These books provided an education for me in publishing realities in a number of ways. First of all, they were my first books sold to a single title publisher – before that, all of my books had been sold to Harlequin Historicals. The process of publishing, the expectations of the house and the way the house did business were all completely different and eye-opening in terms of how publishing works. The house was so much behind this series that the first book, The Princess, landed at #93 on the USA Today list for its first week on sale. That showed me what a big publisher can do for a book, if they choose.

Secondly, the first five books sold roughly the same number of units in mass market, at roughly the same speed. Only the fifth book, however, made the NY Times List of Bestselling Books. My editor at the time said it was great that they were “aware” of me. There was a lesson about how bestseller lists worked.

Thirdly, sales for the sixth book were much lower than for the first five, teaching me about another publishing reality. Dell had become Bantam/Dell by the time I did my second deal and the team that had first acquired my books were no longer working there. After delivering the sixth book, the house and I parted ways: I sold my next medieval trilogy to Warner Books. Because The Temptress had not yet been printed when this transition occurred, the house pulled all marketing support on my last title with them. This was to save money and to keep the focus on the authors they were continuing to publish, and is pretty standard practice (even if it surprised me!) They also ran that title without a step-back, which all of the other books had had. (Reprinted editions of the mass market versions of all six books do not have step-backs.) Another lesson learned in the price of changing houses.

The fourth lesson learned by these books was how small the publishing pond is. I knew this theoretically, but it was proven to me with this series. The editor who acquired the Bride Quest at Dell was the same editor who, as an assistant, found my very first medieval romance in the slush pile at Harlequin Historicals and recommended the changes that convinced the house to buy it. The editor who bought my subsequent series at Warner Books had been at Bantam/Dell until the week before, and knew my sales numbers very well. I was her first acquisition in her new job, and she bought my work at auction. The editor she hired to edit my books at Warner had been my last editor at Harlequin Historicals. And the editor who bought my Dragonfire series years later at NAL had been my last editor at Bantam/Dell. NY publishing is a teeny tiny pond with all the same fishies swimming around and around.

Overall, Dell was a wonderful house to work with. That was probably the best publishing relationship I have had in over twenty years in this business. That’s not to say it was perfect, but they did more promotional support for their midlist titles than other houses even at that time, their sales team were totally into marketing romance, my editors were excellent and the covers were beautiful. This relationship was as good as it got.

The Beauty by NYT Bestselling Author Claire DelacroixFast-forward ten years and the Bride Quest is still teaching me more about publishing. This time, it’s about sales in the new digital world. Because the second BQ trilogy had reverted to me, I republished those titles in December 2011, January 2012 and February 2012. I also produced a digital boxed set which became available in March 2012. Random House (the parent of Bantam/Dell) produced a digital boxed set of the first three Bride Quest titles in June 2012.

These two series are ideal to compare. My last traditionally published medieval romance as as Claire Delacroix was published in 2005 – there hadn’t been a new historical under that brand until The Renegade’s Heart was published last May. While I have some established readership, there are lots of newer readers who are unfamiliar with my historical romances. Also, the historical romance market is less robust than was once the case, and medievals are less popular than Regency-set romances. No one is doing any marketing or publicity for these titles. These are both linked trilogies, having the same tone and a similar premise. In fact, there’s a connection between the series, so you’d expect sales to be similar – yet the results between sales for the two digital bundles are different. Let’s have a look. If anything, I thought that most readers would begin with the first BQ trilogy, to start at the beginning, so expected sales would skew in favour of the books still held by RH.

I’m simplifying this discussion because there are all sorts of levels and variations in royalty rates, based on territory and other variables. I have signed a contract amendment with RH which vastly improved upon the original contract terms for digital books, and that’s reflected here. Generally, the best royalty rate in any contract with a US publisher is for the US edition sold to a US-resident customer through a US portal. Other territories (like Canada, the UK and Australia) pay out at lower royalty rates and there are tons of other variables as well.

The house is acknowledging the following digital book sales for 2012:

The Princess – 175 units

The Damsel – 145 units

The Heiress – 150 units

The BQ boxed set – 547 units

This is, btw, a huge spike in sales for the titles managed by RH. From December 2009 (when the digital edition was first released) through June of 2012, RH sold about 700 units of The Princess in digital. That’s spread over two and a half years. Counting the boxed set along with the individual books sold (because that’s the way RH counts it) means that The Princess sold (175+547) 722 units in the second half of 2012 alone.

The individual titles are priced at $6.99 in digital. Because I sell well in non-US English territories, I earn an average of $1.25 on each unit sold. The boxed set is priced at $14.99 and I earn roughly $2.70 per unit sold. My revenue for these sales through RH was around $2,700 – and it was paid in April 2013.

ClaireDelacroix_TheTemptress_200Now, let’s look at my indie-pubbed editions. In 2012, I made the following digital sales:

The Countess – 1510 units

The Beauty – 2170 units

The Temptress – 1160 units

The BQII Boxed Set – 900 units

The individual titles were priced at $2.99 last year. Again, royalty rates are a bit of a mare’s nest – they range from 30% to 70% (and even for a few months last year were 80% through KOBO), depending upon the portal and its terms, as well as the location of the customer. They also change: for example, until December 2012, Kindle sales to readers in Canada purchased through Amazon.com earned a royalty of 35%. In December, when Amazon.ca launched, Kindle sales to readers in Canada who used the new portal earned a royalty of 70%. The 70% royalty rate from Amazon also incurs a transmission charge which is subtracted from the royalty payment, and on it goes. Again, these portals are primarily based in the US and the best rate is on books sold to readers resident in the US—and I sell well in non-US English markets. I could calculate it precisely, but let’s eyeball the split between territories and call it $1.75 a unit on individual books. The BQII Boxed Set was $5.99 for most of last year, earning me $3 a unit on average. (Notice that even though the price point for consumers is much lower on my digital editions, I’m earning more on each transaction. This is the magic of indie publishing.) My income from indie-pubbing this trilogy was roughly $11,200—and it was paid within 90 days of being earned.

The difference in the revenue is striking, even though these are not stupendous digital sales numbers. Historical romances don’t sell as well as contemporary romances, and these books are more than ten years old which means they’re not as hot as current historical romances. There are certainly indie-pubbed authors selling far better than this and I have other historical romance series that sell better than this one. (This is my Cinderella series – it’s still sitting in the ashes, dreaming of the prince who will come!) But look at the revenue difference even so – not only did I earn four times the money, but it was paid more quickly to me. Even with no promotional effort on my part, this backlist trilogy is selling better under my management than its sister series does under that of a traditional publishing house. There are thousands of used mass market copies of the original editions of all six of these books available (even for one cent each) but that’s not enough of a variable to keep these digital unit sales from adding up. I’m also selling trade paperback copies in POD of the new editions, but then, they are really pretty. :-) Best of all, this series is earning revenue for me again, even at this modest sales level—after ten years of only very small income generated from these six books, last year they earned me nearly $14,000. That’s a nice change!

ClaireDelacroix_BrideQuest_BoxSet_200The difference in the number of units sold is also interesting. At lower prices, I’m selling far more books. The immediate conclusion might be that the historical romance market is more price sensitive than publishers believe, and I do think that’s the case. A great many romance readers are voracious readers, and my suspicion is that historical romance readers might be the quickest readers of all. Budget makes them conscious of price.

On the other hand, there appears to have been less resistance to a higher price on the boxed set, at least at the on-sale date. The difference in our respective sales numbers doesn’t really echo the big disparity in prices. What you can’t see is that over 10% of RH’s bundle sales were from libraries, at a $71.21 price point. I haven’t distributed any of my boxed sets to libraries because I assumed the large file would be unwieldy for them, but now am reconsidering that choice. (There goes BQ, teaching me more about publishing again.)

Before receiving this statement, I had increased the prices on my indie books this year – this series and the boxed set is selling more quickly than they did last year. 2013 sales numbers have or will soon exceed the 2012 numbers for all of my titles, including BQII. This is the algorithm at work.

The truth is that there are many, many variables at work simultaneously, and that the mix keeps changing. Even so, digital book sales patterns defy much of the conventional wisdom about publishing books that I’ve been taught over the past twenty years. What’s even more intriguing to me—and something I never realized until I did this comparison—is that sales patterns are not the same for digital books released from traditional publishing houses and those pubbed by indie-authors. Not only is BQII selling better under my administration, it’s selling differently.

Next week, we’ll continue our game of compare-and-contrast, and talk more about that.