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.

Mistakes

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