Launching A Book By The Seat Of My Pants Marketing Writing

mercenaryI’m launching Mercenary today and you can grab it from Amazon, B&N, Kobo and Smashwords for just 99c, and you can add it on Goodreads here.

I recommend grabbing it now because the price will be jumping to $4.99 in a few days. The reasoning behind 99c is below, but first here’s the blurb:

Lee Christmas gets drunk and falls asleep at the throttle of his locomotive, plowing straight into an oncoming train. Blacklisted from the railroad and his marriage in tatters, he flees New Orleans on a steamer bound for the tropics.

In Honduras, he begins a quiet new life. But trouble has a way of finding Christmas. With unrest sweeping the countryside, he’s kidnapped by bandits. Soon, he finds himself taking sides in an all-out civil war–as leader of the rebellion.

MERCENARY is the story of the USA’s most famous soldier of fortune: the hard-drinking drifter who changed the fate of a nation.

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | Smashwords $4.99 $0.99

And if you want to spread the love, here’s a tweet you can use:

The paperback will be out in a month and Apple should go live later today – it was rejected yesterday for breaching Apple’s trademarks. For the first time, I uploaded vendor-specific editions via Draft2Digital so that the Apple version would have direct links to iTunes instead of my site.

But I made the mistake of putting “Apple Edition” on the copyright page – one of those weird things which only Apple doesn’t seem to like. Lesson learned, and not the first lesson I learned with this launch…

Why 99c?

Historical fiction is a genre more tolerant of higher prices. E-books from large publishers retail for $10.99+ and I launched my last historical at $4.99.

Am I leaving money on the table by launching at $0.99? Well, maybe.

But my mailing list (and my platform, and my readership) is quite a diverse group. I’ve some people on my list from shorts, from publishing guides, from historical fiction, from my blog, and a big chunk is writers primarily interested in books like Digital and Visible.

I wanted to make the purchase of my latest as frictionless as possible. Maybe some people will be curious to see what Mercenaryis like, and 99c makes that itch a little easier to scratch.

On top of that, I read a post by Ed Robertson a few months back on pricing frontlist like backlist which has been on my mind a lot. The most passionate readers buy books as soon as they are released, and often miss out on deals.

It’s kind of unfair isn’t it? So I thought it would be nice to give those guys a deal for a change. I might be leaving money on the table, but I’m making readers happy, making the news of the new release more shareable, I’m maximizing sales, and I’m hoping all this adds up to being in a reasonable position when Amazon’s algorithms (hopefully!) start doing the selling for me.

A Perfect Launch

Before I lay out the haphazard, seat-of-my-pants approach I adopted for Mercenary, I’ll contrast it with something more orderly: the launch of Let’s Get Visible.

It couldn’t have gone any smoother. I knew exactly when the book would launch because editing, covers, formatting all happened like clockwork. I was able to arrange a guest post and have everything else ready: blurb quotes, ARCs, reviews on launch day, etc.

There were a lot of people waiting for Visible, I had 15-20 reviews go up soon after it went live, and the book took off. My affiliate code tracked several hundred sales in the first few days and then Amazon’s algorithms did the rest, with sustained strong sales continuing at a great level through July. It sold around 1,500 copies in the first month and 4,000 in the first three months, helped along by dropping Digital to 99c at launch and advertising the hell out of it.

It never spiked super-high in the charts. In fact, I didn’t want it to. Amazon’s algorithms can push a book down just as quickly if it’s a one-day spike. So I hit my mailing list on one day, social media the next day, my blog the following day, and did a guest post on the fourth day. By the fifth or sixth day Amazon was selling the book for me. But it doesn’t always go that smoothly.

It’s linked somehow to Also Bought recrunches – Also Boughts seem to be central to the whole recommendation engine – which generally happen on Sunday and Thursday. I’ve seen great results from having four or so days of consistent sales leading into an Also Bought recrunch, rather than one huge launch day followed by successive days of decaying sales.

But you never really know when those Also Boughts will recrunch. And perhaps you won’t have hit your stride when the system looks at your selling patterns and decides how much exposure to give you. It’s all a roll of the dice, to be frank, but the potential upside is great so I think it’s important to try and put yourself in the best possible position to benefit from Amazon’s recommendation engine – but also keep in mind that anything could happen.

A Tricky Birth

The launch for Mercenary was much less organized but it might be interesting to look at decisions made on the fly, how they worked out, and mistakes I made.

This book had a tortuous gestation – trunked twice over the last few years, before I pulled it out in January, curious if it was salvageable. I was stuck with a troublesome SF WIP and hoped that working on the historical for an afternoon might dislodge something.

What I wasn’t expecting was to plot out a complete rewrite of the historical in a couple of hours. I was experimenting with the Story Beats method from Write.Publish.Repeat and it was a revelation. 24 days later, I had 75k done and the first draft of Mercenary written.

I’ve never written at that pace before and I think it’s my strongest work too, so I’m especially delighted to find a more productive way of working where quality doesn’t seem to suffer. (If you’re interested, I talk a little more about the creative process in this guest post on the blog of Roz Morris.)

Successive drafts went very quickly, and the whole thing was finished, edited, and proofed before the end of April. Unfortunately, I made a mess of the scheduling and had to wait until this week for a cover. But the book is in good shape and the cover is fantastic.

My sister Kate designed the cover and she’s very talented. I think Mercenary will sell quite a few copies based on the cover alone. It has that nebulous click me quality. In short, a cover worth waiting for.

But because I didn’t quite know when it would be ready, I had to have a flexible launch plan – as well as find something to keep me occupied while I waited. So I wrote the 2nd edition of Digital and cast around for some ideas to boost the launch of Mercenary, and that’s when I discovered NoiseTrade.

Boosting My List

I wrote about NoiseTrade last month here. In short, it’s a way of boosting your mailing list by giving out free books. I had fantastic results there, gaining 511 new emails for my list.

I had to be careful with these though. If you get too many spam reports (or even too many people unsubscribing for any reason) MailChimp can start wondering if you are a spammer, and perhaps block your account while they investigate.

Not something you want happening, let alone during a launch.

My normal list got the standard email, but I kept the NoiseTrade guys separate and sent them something slightly different – hoping to minimize people either unsubscribing or reporting the message as spam. And it worked.

The open rates were consistent with the rest of my list, the clicks were about half as good (better than expected), and while the un-sub rate was higher than normal, it was still pretty low and I had no spam reports whatsoever.

Overall, thumbs up for NoiseTrade. And I might get even better results from this list when I launch Digital 2.


Sales of Mercenary have been reasonably good so far. I’ve sold around 150 copies since Thurs and sales have been increasing each day. Also, things should pick up next week when I throw some advertising at it. But I did make some mistakes.

The Apple error was wholly avoidable. I was unaware that Draft2Digital allows you to upload a dummy file for pre-orders to B&N and Apple. You don’t even need a cover, just a placeholder. All you really need is the metadata. So I could have had B&N and Apple links ready for launch, instead of hitting my list with only Kobo and Amazon live. Lesson learned.

Possibly a bigger mistake was not formatting Mercenary much earlier and giving out a load of ARCs so I would have reviews going up soon after launch. This was quite a slip. I was sitting on the edited, proofed file for a month and I’ve no real explanation other than I got distracted by publishing firefights and blogging, when I should have been focusing on the launch. Again, lesson learned.

It might cost me. I potentially have a couple of ad spots next week, but if I don’t get some reviews up there before they run, I might get bumped. So if any of you do manage to read Mercenary in the next few days, a review (an honest review, of course) would be hugely appreciated. Bit of a longshot, but so it goes.

Mostly though, I’m just excited to have this book out there. I think it’s my best work and I’m insanely excited to share the story of Lee Christmas with the world. When I posted the new release to Facebook yesterday, Lee’s great-great-grandson got in touch and I was able to gift him a copy.

mercenaryWhich is the coolest thing in the world, and the reason why we do this.

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | Smashwords $4.99 $0.99

46 Replies to “Launching A Book By The Seat Of My Pants”

  1. Already got my copy! Won’t have it read in time for your ads due to scheduling backups, but will give it a review as soon as I’m able.

    Congratulations and good luck with further sales!

  2. Hi David, bought it (as I have all your other novels) a couple of days ago. I moved it up to third on my reading list. I am very eager to begin it.

  3. Just started the book today, and probably won’t be able to finish real soon because of working a full time temp job into late this month, but can say the narrative has a seductive drive to it.

    I read a little, and I wanna read more.

    I think it’s gonna be fun to pick and read on the train ride to & from work. 😉

  4. I would say ‘Good Luck!’ But of all the Indie authors I know, you are the least likely to need it! Hell, I’ll say it anyway! Good Luck!

    1. Hi Michael. Yes! Well, the first time I tried to write this story was in Jan/Feb 2011, after a bad experience (or bad near-experience to be more exact!) with an agent – the idea being to write another historical with a slightly more commercial set-up. But I only got a couple of chapters in before hitting a wall. I pulled it out again for that 60k in Feb challenge in 2012. I got a draft done before the end of the month too, but beta feeback was pretty bad. So I trunked it for a couple of years, jotting down ideas now and then, but never attempting to tackle it. Then this Jan I took another look and rewrote the whole thing from scratch. So, relatively painless… at the third attempt!

  5. Good luck with your latest. I’ve checked out your sister’s excellent website and her wonderful cover design. I’ll bet I can’t afford her. But amused to see one draft cover reading, “Quote About Book to Go Somehwere Around Here.” Guardian
    How nice to be able to design a cover already knowing that you’ll be using a blurb from the Guardian. Makes you wonder about how deep the Guardian is in bed with legacy publishing overall—not that I wonder.

    1. It’s entirely possible that they had several quotes from a nice review and had yet to decide which to use, or that the designer knew that a quote was going there and left space for it, or that it was just a placeholder while they decided whether to put a quote from an author, or review, or mention of a prize etc.

      My cover had some dummy text like that in there until I came up with a tagline.

  6. David thanks for sharing, you are super-organized and this one post taught me quite a lot about what will be involved if I go the indie route. I look fwd to reading your Let’s Get books.

  7. Hi, David — congrats on your release! I’ll grab a copy and will leave a review once I’m done. I appreciate your blog and your books on self-publishing so am glad to have the chance to read your fiction.

    Among the self-pubbed authors I know, there is a real negative view of 99c releases. The sense from them is that it devalues the book and indie books by association, making readers think they should be able to get all books at such a bottom basement price. No trad pubbed book would be 99c on release date and so they argue why should self-pubbed books be so cheap on release? They also hate the idea of leaving all that $$ on the table — we are in this as a career and so can’t be giving our books away for next to nothing. They resent authors who release at 99c, saying that it will kill us and the industry in the long run. Besides, trad publishers do not view sales below $2.99 as a real book sale so it would not be counted when considering whether to buy your books – not that all of us are hoping for a trad publisher book deal!

    Personally, I’m of two minds: we indies can’t always compete with the big 5 in terms of release excitement and visibility. We need to use whatever tools we have at our disposal to get reader attention and price is one way of getting it. Those who will buy our books in the early days are usually already loyal fans, and what a nice way to reward them — getting their copy on sale instead of having them pay full price?

    Still, I can see their point. My books normally sell for $4.99 and because of that, I can sell fewer copies and make a good living. I have always released at full price and try to hold out as long as possible before holding a sale. I have waited 3 months before putting my book on sale for 99c, in a BookBub or some other similar venue. That way I get new readers for the book and series above and beyond my loyal fans. I could see releasing at 99c for a series starter to get a larger number of new readers, but for follow-up books, I think it’s better to release at full price and then use sales to get more attention.

    But I don’t feel the same animosity towards authors who release at 99c that they do. I understand the reasoning on both sides.

    Anyway, this is a new world for us indies, and we are trailblazers. We’re still sorting out what works and what doesn’t. I want this industry to keep healthy so that there are new readers for us all so I think the use of 99c releases should be judicious and limited rather than becoming the norm.

    1. Thanks for your comments Anon. I hope you enjoy the book.

      As you might imagine, I take issue with the viewpoint that releasing books at 99c is somehow unfair, or that it devalues books, or harms the long-term health of the industry, or the viability of writing as a profession.

      1. First of all, 99c doesn’t devalue books. How could it? Readers love cheap books! Do libraries devalue books? What about cheap paperback classics? All of these things *encourage* reading. Books becoming cheaper is a wonderful phenomenon that should be encourage and celebrated. Reading shouldn’t be a minority sport for the middle class.

      2. A writer has a duty to herself and no one else. she shouldn’t have to make decisions for the good of the “industry.” What does Penguin Random House care for the average writer? Do they care if their decisions impact upon the ability of self-publishers to earn a living? Hell, no.

      3. Cheap books expands the pool of readers, making the industry healthier and writing more viable as a profession. We don’t have to pay for office blocks, printers, binding, storage, distribution. In a digital world, there are much fewer up-front costs and way less ongoing costs. Why shouldn’t we pass on some of those cost savings to readers – readers who have been screwed by higher prices from large publishers since the consolidation wave of the 1990s?

      4. My main problem with this thinking is that it’s very analog. This isn’t a zero sum game. If I make $500 more by employing a certain strategy, I’m not taking $500 out of another writer’s pocket. If a reader waiting for my latest release – who was willing to pay $4.99 – gets it for 99c, now they have $4 more to spend on books. So maybe they’ll end up buying two or three instead of one. Also, while I might leave $$$ on the table *this week* the strategy is to maximize sales by getting more of my disparate list/platform to try my historical fiction. If it works, I’ll have expanded my readership AND made money. If it doesn’t… the worst that will happen is I’ll make a little less money, but still expand my readership somewhat. And I’ll still make my readers happy. But however it works out for me *personally* I don’t see it having an effect on anyone else.

      5. The obvious retort is, “What if it is successful and/or everyone starts launching books at 99c?” Again, this is analog thinking. This development would be WONDERFUL for writers. Readers would swamp our mailing lists knowing that all writers now launch at 99c. This would allow authors to build very powerful platforms, independent of any publisher or retailer.

      6. There’s a lot that’s confusing in publishing today, but if you’re making a decision which is pro-reader, you won’t go too far wrong.

      7. I would agree that you should be judicious with 99c (either as a launch strategy or in general), but not for the reasons you stated. It’s more a case of using the right tool for the job. 99c is great as a limited time sale, or the first book in a series, or even as a launch price, depending. Same goes for free.

      Worrying about the “industry” is pointless because the industry doesn’t care about you. But I don’t share those fears anyway.

  8. An intel research about “geopolitical” mercenaries has led me today to this blog: While looking around for intel about one of those “geopolitical” mercenaries, the author of this book “Mercenaries” appeared as one of h.. contacts. I don’t know what “mercenaries” the author describes. But mercenaries with weapons are of no interest for geopolitical research. A guy who runs around looking like a sweaty “Terminator” , or floating in an Aston-Martin dressed in a smoking, is for greasy kids entertainment. In 2014 the most dangerous geopolitical mercenary is a female between 25 and 40, with some university education in “sociology” or “ethnology” – mostly from German universities (especially FU-Berlin and Koeln). The males are less effective – but usually with some university study in “political science” or “philosophy” – again from universities in Germany and also universities in Britain. Invariably they find deployment with NGO$ or on the staff of TV&Press media group$, primarily of the U.S., Britain , and Germany. Nevertheless, I wish the author good luck !

  9. David, I’ve got a book just about ready to go to the publisher.  I’d love to talk to you someday. Fritz Peterson PS  Are you a Yankee fan?

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  12. Bought it! I’m a sucker for train stories. Can’t wait to read this one. Just finished “If You Go Into The Woods.” Your prose has such an splendid quality about it. Really lovely.
    I just realized that I wasn’t following you on twitter, so I took care of that just now. Also, I referred some Wattpadders to your Let’s Get Digital & Visible books. Hope it helps!

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