Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like

Self-publishing wake-up call No. 2472


Back on the first of May I ran a Kindle Select promotion for Occasional Soulmates: three days of freebies. To pump up the volume, I listed the promo on a number of popular marketing sites, including the old reliable Ereader News Today, and to my astonishment more than 3000 copies flew out the window! This seemed extraordinary to me — just the kind of push the book needed to climb to the next level, i.e., organic word-of-mouth, gobs of new reviews, readers finding it via other means than my constant hawking. I also hoped for some new sales of Yesterday Road, discovered by readers who got Soulmates for free and decided to buy something else by the author (moi).

Friends, what I got instead was something of a shock. Have a look at my June sales:

June sales 1
Here’s what I glean from all this. One, as I’ve already heard on the indie street, just because someone downloads a free book doesn’t mean she actually reads it. I suspect that’s the case for most of the free copies of Soulmates. Second, just because someone downloads a free book and reads it doesn’t mean she’ll do anything else. There’s no mandate (thank goodness) to review everything we read. A thousand other free books are offered every flippin’ week, so our reader moves on to the next thing in the queue and forgets about this one in a nanosecond. Third, even if someone downloads, reads, and reviews a free book doesn’t mean the review will be positive. Of the handful of new reviews I’ve received since the promo, a couple were negative phone-ins of the sort that tells me the reader expected something completely different from what she got (for FREE). To be fair, a couple of very nice positive reviews came in too, but they haven’t helped to bring in any new sales. Everything occurs in a vacuum in this business.

The bottom line is that my Kindle Select promotion has had no effect whatsoever. Or, worse, it might have actually suppressed sales, judging by the June chart, in that a certain number of the 3000 downloaders might have actually paid for the book at some point. Not enough to make waves, but at least there might have been a few spikes on that startling flatline.

What to do?

First, I guess: Keep on keepin’ on. Nobody said this’d be easy. Nobody’s clamoring for another bit of indie lit fic by an author they never heard of. But I’m not about to quit just because this particular promotion appears to have failed.

More importantly, don’t put too much faith in schemes that seem to have worked for other writers. Your book is your book. You are you. What works for someone else might be completely wrong for you. Try to come up with new approaches, or at least stick to the long-term plan of getting new books into the hands of readers. Believe me, reaching a few hundred people with each book feels good, and that so many of them are generous with their praise and support makes it all the better.

It’s possible that, as the months go on, the 3000+ new owners of Occasional Soulmates will eventually get to reading it, and maybe I’ll begin to see the positive side of a free promotion.

For now, though, it looks like it’s back to the drawing board…

26 comments on “Self-publishing wake-up call No. 2472

  1. Charles Yallowitz
    July 13, 2015

    Sorry about the terrible month. Hope things pick up for you. Great point on what works for one author might not work for another.

  2. sknicholls
    July 13, 2015

    Mine looks like yours and I didn’t even do a promo in May. Except for one red blip. I just found out someone in my smoking cessation support group bought the book. So far (two weeks later) she hasn’t said anything or posted any review. I’m not asking.

    • Kevin Brennan
      July 13, 2015

      Good instincts. I’ve learned never to ask if someone liked one of my books. If they don’t volunteer it, I don’t want to know!

  3. Helena Hann-Basquiat
    July 13, 2015

    Thanks for sharing this, Kevin. One more pitfall to avoid.

  4. kingmidget
    July 13, 2015

    This is one of the many reasons I am struggling with writing these days. I’d love to say I write just for the joy of it. But once I self-published my first novel and experienced some very small amount of success, I struggle with how to go about achieving more success. My second novel fell completely flat. It was a different genre. And I think that may be a part of the problem. Only certain genres do well in the self-published world. So, I get it. I wish I knew now to crack the market when I’m one of thousands who are trying to do the same thing.

    • Kevin Brennan
      July 13, 2015

      It does mess with our sense of confidence and purpose. As I look ahead to my new book, I’m half wondering if I should postpone until I have a better handle on how to sell it. Otherwise I’ll be fighting this same battle yet again.

      I think genre has a lot to do with it, but also a huge readership that refuses to pay more than a buck for an ebook. They’re repeatedly rewarded for holding out, too, which only reinforces the cycle.

      • kingmidget
        July 13, 2015

        The pricing is a huge problem. And Amazon and all the promo sites that only help if you offer it free or for .99. It’s why I want to come up with a different way.

      • Kevin Brennan
        July 13, 2015

        Yeah, I’m totally mind-boggled by the promo system. I’ve tried several different ways to play it, but nothing seems to be very effective.

        Let me know what you come up with!

  5. Café Miskatonic
    July 13, 2015

    Yes, that’s sort of what I have struggled with too… But then at least you have written something!

    Me – I just keep fretting about “will someone read it or not” and end up not writing at all.

    • Kevin Brennan
      July 13, 2015

      True. The first battle is always to finish a book in the first place!

  6. John W. Howell
    July 13, 2015

    Interesting Kevin. I would have thought there would be a couple. Makes one want to spit. Patoo!

  7. ericjbaker
    July 13, 2015

    And you wonder why my comments are so nihilistic. Of course, I do it for humor, but I do use humor to vent frustration. Talented writers like you have to bang the drum on a self-published novel until your hands bleed and your wrists get tendinitis while some knucklehead who can barely compose a sentence bumbles into selling 100,000 copies of a first draft vampire porn novel. Bleah.

    By the way, I read your novel and think it was as well written as any bestseller I’ve ever come across. And I read shit tons of books.

    • Kevin Brennan
      July 13, 2015

      Oh man, you just rocked my world, EJB! That kind of compliment coming from a writer/reader like you is opium-laced mother’s milk to me.

      But yeah, the irony that essentially fan-fic can sell in the thousands while fairly serious people can’t get a hundred copies sold (forget the giveaways) starts to eat away at one. Meaning me.

      Thanks for reading the book, my friend…

      • ericjbaker
        July 14, 2015

        i’ll read the next one too!

  8. 1WriteWay
    July 14, 2015

    What Eric said … all of it including the part about your books being as well written as any bestseller I’ve read.

  9. pinklightsabre
    July 15, 2015

    Patoo is right. Just finished a collection of Richard Brautigan poems that fetched $1.95 in 1970. In 1939, a guy got $1/day working the National Guard. Makes you think. Thank you for sharing your experiences. You are way up the trail from me and know it’s appreciated, someone beating back the brush, or at least calling back how much it sucks up there, but still worth the work I hope.

    • Kevin Brennan
      July 16, 2015

      Sadly, I think the brush grows back in a hurry. Things change fast in this business.

      Thanks for the vote of confidence, Bill, and may I add, your stuff is so good that I can’t imagine you not getting a solid shot. Keep on truckin’!

      • pinklightsabre
        July 16, 2015

        You slay, thanks Kevin. Looking forward to getting to know you better by way of your books.

  10. Pingback: My recent promotion – the results | Suffolk Scribblings

  11. Pingback: Promotion matters: The giveaway | curtisbaussebooks

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