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Building a “Sticky” Digital Readership Courtney Milan New Zealand RWA August 15, 2014.

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Presentation on theme: "Building a “Sticky” Digital Readership Courtney Milan New Zealand RWA August 15, 2014."— Presentation transcript:

1 Building a “Sticky” Digital Readership Courtney Milan New Zealand RWA August 15, 2014

2 Half-Assing Promotion (and still making money) Courtney Milan New Zealand RWA August 15, 2014

3 Phases of Author Success Phase 1: Nobody knows who you are. You have to work for every sale. Phase 2: A few people know who you are. The algorithms are beginning to work for you. Phase 3: Readers are beginning to wait for your books. You hit the genre lists when your book comes out. Phase 4: The vendors know who you are. You have a merchandising contact (as a self-published author).

4 Where do sales come from? Sources external to vendor sites – Blogs, websites, reviews – Newsletters, Facebook – Word of mouth recommendations Vendor Algorithms (computer-driven, internal to vendor sites) Vendor Merchandising (affirmative human choice, internal to vendor sites)

5 A note about vendor algorithms Vendor Algorithms Sales More sales If you don’t have any sales in the beginning, the algorithms won’t know what to do with you. You have to have sales to make sales.

6 This is your book.

7 This is the landscape of digital sales





12 Some Disheartening Statistics (Don’t worry, they won’t last long.) The median self-published author made < $500 in 2011.* The median earnings on a book sold to an e-publisher are:** – Samhain: $1,700 on a book. – Ellora’s Cave: $2,300 – Entangled: $1150 – Cobblestone: $650 – Breathless Press: $100 – Siren: $1700 (Note: These are both self-reporting, volunteer surveys, where data was collected over a year ago. Statistics are skewed.) *Source: Taleist Survey of Self-Publishing in 2011, ** Source: Brenda Hiatt’s “Show Me the Money” Survey,

13 Some Heartening Statistics The median self-published earnings are < $500, but the average of self-published earnings are $10,000—because 10% of self- published authors make 75% of the earnings. The median per-book earnings from Samhain Publishing are reported as $1,700, but top earners have made as much as $400,000 on a single book. This talk is about how to get yourself in the top 10%. * Source: Taleist Survey, blog posts, forum posts, loop posts, from Elisabeth Naughton, Marie Force, Barbara Freethy, Hugh Howey, Tina Folsom, and others whose earnings I’m keeping confidential. ** Source: Someone who made $400K on a book from Samhain.

14 The actual distribution of authors

15 Why? The landscape of book sales are a complex system… …dominated at the bottom end by linear response… …and at the top end by nonlinear responses.

16 Linear Response



19 Nonlinear Response


21 Sales beget sales You need to sell copies of your books to appear on “also bought” lists. You need to sell even more copies of your books to appear on category rankings lists You need to sell lots and lots of copies to qualify for vendor merchandising (this is ‘aliens with a jetpack’) The more books you sell, the better you will do.

22 Why most self-published authors make no money To a close approximation, you need sales for your book to be visible. You need to be visible to get sales.

23 The Dreaded Phase One Here is what you need to get out of Phase One: – You need readers to read one of your books. – You need readers to like that book enough that they want to read your next book. – You need to tell readers how to read your next book.

24 Most important thing authors have to do Write books that readers want to read. No, really. If you’re not writing commercially viable books, stop thinking about sales and focus on craft. Seriously. Just leave now. The more distinctive your books—the less exchangeable your books are with others—the faster this process will go. I’m not going to talk about this anymore.

25 Second most important thing authors have to do. Get readers to read your books. I’m not talking about this, either. Why? Because (a) lots of other people talk about that and (b) I went through this phase years and years ago, and the market is very different for me. I don’t know what works for new authors anymore. If nobody reads your book, it doesn’t matter how good it is.

26 Third most important thing authors have to do Get readers who liked your last book to read the next book. This is what I call “building a sticky digital readership.” I’m calling it the “third most important thing” but if you can achieve #1 & #2 it becomes the most important thing. If you get out of phase 1 with Book #1, but aren’t keeping your readership, you have to start over.

27 Getting out of Phase One sucks. If, for ever book that you released, you had to do all the work to get out of Phase one, you’d spend all your time promoting and none of your time writing. What you need is a way to launch yourself.

28 A “sticky reader”… Is someone who: (a) wants to read your books (b) has a way of finding out when your next one is so that (c) she buys the next book shortly after it is released. Get enough sticky readers, and you grease the engines at the vendors. You send out a newsletter and post to your Facebook page and you get a thousand sales and you’re done with promotion.

29 This happens naturally Readers read one book and go out and read the next. Readers enjoy your books and go to your website to find out when you have a new release/sign up for your newsletter/like you on Facebook/follow you on twitter. People call this “building a fanbase”

30 Authors who have a sticky readership… Have every book launched into the winds of discoverability, not just the ones that win the magic algorithm game Have to do very little work to sell their book and keep on selling it Can focus on “just writing.”

31 Actively encourage stickiness Get readers to attach to you in some way Make readers aware of your other books Encourage readers to buy your other books Encourage readers to tell other people about your books Tell readers the book is out

32 A side note before we go any further The better your books are, and the more widely appealing they are, the easier it will be for you to build a sticky readership. If you’re writing for a niche, be aware of that and don’t compare yourself to authors writing in “big” genres If you’re writing in a big genre and you’re promoting and you do all these things and people leave bad reviews and don’t stick around…consider the possibility that your writing is not there yet.

33 Sticky readers v. Numbers Your goal is not to get as many people as possible signed up for your newsletter/following you on twitter/liking you on Facebook. Random people don’t care about your book and won’t want to buy the next one. Your goal is to make sure that the people who want to buy your next book know when they can do it.

34 Strategy #1: The Page After the End Someone who finishes your book is more likely to have enjoyed it. People who aren’t enjoying it often quit partway through. The page after “the end” is the most important page there is. It says, Hey, Person who liked my book—here’s how you can stick to me.

35 Bella Andre

36 Marie Force

37 Lilliana Hart

38 Debora Geary

39 Things to have on TPATE A link to your newsletter A link to Facebook/Twitter/other social media A description of the books that are coming next to get readers excited A call for reviews A call to lend the book to a friend A call to recommend the book to friends/other readers

40 Some newsletter statistics I did not have a call to sign up for my newsletter at the end of Unlocked, my first self-published work. Between May and October of 2011 (5 months), I sold 83,000 copies of Unlocked and had 38 newsletter signups. By contrast, I had 328 newsletter signups in the first month after the release of my latest book.

41 “Twitter/Facebook doesn’t sell books” You may be using it wrong. Use Twitter/Facebook to connect with readers. That’s what they want. You want people to stick, so give them a reason to stick around, and don’t give them a reason to unfollow. Talk about: your day, your cat, your dog, funny stories, the industry, recipes. DON’T: Whine (too much) or bitch about reviews (EVER) or readers (EVER). When tweeting links for other people, think about it from the readers’ POV. Treat your readers like your friends. If I want to give a book visibility, I give away copies of that book. That way it feels like a “win” for those who follow me, I drum up interest in that book.

42 Strategy 2: Linking Titles The second most important thing you can do is to link your titles. Make it easy for readers to figure out which book is next and where it falls in the series. Do not make people do additional work to buy your book!

43 2a: Back Matter / The Excerpt Include an excerpt for another book. A few dodgy analytics I’ve acquired: – Excerpts for any book sell about 2x more copies than a link to that book. – An excerpt for a book in the same series as the one just finished sells about 3x more copies – An excerpt for the next book in the same series sells about 10x more copies – The first excerpt will get 5x more hits than the second excerpt.

44 2b. Back Matter/The Linked Title List

45 A note on active linking Always make it easy to buy your book. It takes a reader about 20-40 seconds to open up a web browser, go to a vendor site, search for your name, and scroll down to the book they want. In that time, they can get distracted by Facebook/twitter/children. Your links should be clickable and individual to vendors. You don’t want someone to get distracted before they click “buy.”

46 We interrupt this slide… To talk about back matter efficiency. Readers are okay with back matter Back matter sells more books Nobody complains about back matter that’s less than 90% of the book Many people complain about back matter that’s > 40% of the book Use back matter in moderation!

47 2c. The Vendor Description Note: All authors can change book description on Author Central. This is buggy right now, but you should still be aware of it.

48 The effect of this When I released The Duchess War, I got a HUGE bounce for The Governess Affair. (October sales for TGA: 2,328. November sales for TGA: 2,238. December sales for TGA: 10,003.) Publishers don’t often do this because they’re used to physical bookshelves: They don’t want to scare people away from Book 3 because they haven’t read Book 1, and Book 1 isn’t on shelves anymore. Your Book 1 is always on the shelves; don’t be afraid to sell it.

49 2d. The Website The old regime: Place your current release prominently on your website.

50 The Website New regime: Allow readers to access all your covers from your website.



53 The Website Explicitly link series order on every book page.

54 Consider a series page

55 List books by series on books page

56 Consider a series page

57 Goodreads/Shelfari/LibraryThing Make sure your series are correct on social reading websites. If they are not, edit them.

58 Strategy 3: Tell readers how to stick to you on your website The website is the first place people go to find out about you. Your website is the beginning of attachment. Seal the deal.

59 Have a prominent newsletter signup

60 Have prominent links to social media

61 Have individual pages with all that information Because even though you posted it prominently on the front page, some people won’t expect it to be on the front page. Make it easy for people to find out about you. If you think “people are browsing my webpage wrong,” you’re wrong. Do not be afraid to duplicate information.


63 Strategy 4: Get good analytics Know who clicks on which links. (Use a link shortener/affiliate codes) If you’re using Amazon affiliate codes, generate separate affiliate IDs for each site: Facebook, Twitter, your website, the end of your books. This will give you so much power in tracking data.

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