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I am the author of five novels and am writing this post to examine one year selling my books on Amazon to see what I did right and what I did wrong in my quest to build a fan base, and to help other independent authors.

To begin my unofficial scientific experiment, I have donned a lab coat and a Sherlock Holmes’ cap, test tubes are brimming over with white, dense bubbles in my laboratory, and I have formulated the following question:

As a self-published author, how is it best to utilize Amazon to sell/giveaway the most e-books possible?

In doing my background research and constructing my hypothesis, I am considering the following:

1.   My published e-books, including the genre, number of Amazon reviews and overall ratings.

2.   My e-book sales from May 1, 2013 until May 31, 2014, as well as refunded e-books, free promotions, the prices of my e-books, royalties received, the Kindle Match (KM) program (which began January 1, 2014 and where if readers buy the paperback they can get the Kindle version at a reduced rate or free) and the KOLL program (Kindle Owners’ Lending Library in which Amazon Prime members can borrow e-books at no cost and a royalty is paid to author from a fund). This analysis does not include the Kindle Countdown Deal in which authors can offer their e-books at reduced rates.

3.   Only e-book sales in the United States are being considered.

4.   My sales prior to May 1, 2013.

5.   My sales after May 31, 2014.

6.   No other outside promotions are being considered, as I have found few to be effective.

7.   I am also not considering any marketing I have done through social media and blog posts, and

8.   Other factors.

My Published E-books

As of the writing of this blog post, I have five published e-books that I am including in this study. They are:

Wicked Good (English version), by Joanne Lewis and Amy Lewis Faircloth. Published August 2011. Genre: commercial fiction. The story of a fifteen-year-old boy with Asperger’s syndrome who searches for his birth parents. 42 reviews, 4.7 stars.

Make Your Own luck, a Remy Summer Woods mystery (Book One), by Joanne Lewis. Published May 2012. Genre: murder mystery. A young attorney fights the system and her father in her quest to represent a young girl accused of murder. 32 reviews, 4.5 stars.

The Lantern, a Renaissance mystery, by Joanne Lewis. Published August 2012. Genre: historical fiction. A novel that transcends time from Miami, Florida in the present to Florence, Italy during the Italian Renaissance as a modern-day woman searches to discover the truth about a young woman who dared to enter the competition to build the lantern on top of Brunelleschi’s dome. 48 reviews, 4.3 stars.

Forbidden Room, by Joanne Lewis. Published May 2013. Genre: murder mystery. New attorney Michael Tucker undertakes more than he can handle when he is hired to defend an heiress charged with murder. 132 reviews, 3.9 stars.

Michelangelo & the Morgue (Book One of the Michelangelo & Me series), by Joanne Lewis. Published October 2013. Genre: historical fantasy. In 1492, Michelangelo tracks down a serial killer.  7 reviews, 4.1 stars.

Some Things to Know

Michelangelo & the Morgue was not published until October 2013.

KM program did not begin until January 1, 2014.

My e-books were mostly priced at 99 cents during this one-year period. The royalty for each 99-cent book is estimated at 35 cents. If I raised the price, it’s indicated below. The royalty for an e-book priced at $2.99 is estimated at $2.04.

If under free it says “0”, that means I did not take part in a free promotion for that e-book during the month indicated.

If KOLL royalty = 0, it means no one borrowed that e-book in the lending library during the month.

KOLL does not include Kindle Unlimited (KU) as KU began in July 2014.

My E-book Sales, Free Promotions, KOLL, KM and Royalties Received

May 1 – May 31, 2013

BOOK
SOLD/REFUNDED   FREE  KOLL  ROYALTY 
Wicked Good
7/0  0 $2.45 
Make Your Own Luck
15/0  0 0 $5.24
The Lantern
31/1  0 $2.24 $10.50
Forbidden Room 952/5  1904  $15.71 $331.52

Total Royalties: $367.66


Observations: During Mother’s Day weekend, I placed Forbidden Room for free and gave away 1904 copies. As best as I can tell, Amazon took an interest in this book and began promoting it. I believe this is true because friends of mine told me they received e-mails from Amazon stating, since you liked this book, why don’t you try Forbidden Room? This was also the month Forbidden Room was published so I have no sales comparisons to make prior to Mother’s Day weekend.

June 1 – June 30, 2013

BOOK SOLD/REFUNDED   FREE  KOLL  ROYALTY 
Wicked Good
31 at 99 cents/3
4 at $2.99
5740 $10.49 at 99 cents
$6.06 at $2.99
Make Your Own Luck
43 at 99 cents/1
0 at $2.99
2039 0 $14.75
The Lantern
78 at 99cents/0
3 at $2.99
2471 $15.67 $28.69 at 99 cents
$6.06 at $2.99
Forbidden Room
 
933 at 99 cents/4
34 at $2.99 
0 $38.06 $328.28 at 99 cents
$69.36 at $2.99

Total Royalties: $517.43


Observations: My books sold at 99 cents but not at $2.99. This includes my most popular book, Forbidden Room. Are people only buying my books because they’re cheap? Are they to be considered impulse buys at 99 cents? At 99 cents, are they being read?

July 1 – July 31, 2013

BOOK  SOLD/REFUNDED   FREE  KOLL ROYALTY
Wicked Good
33/0   0 $4.08   $11.57
Make Your Own Luck
97/0  0  0  $33.99
The Lantern
66/2  1136  $49.01  $22.44
Forbidden Room
2115/0  0  $49.01  $738.76

Total Royalties: $908.77

Observations: Did sales of Make Your Own Luck, a murder mystery like Forbidden Room, pick up on the coat tails of Forbidden Room’s popularity?

August 1 – August 31, 2013

BOOK 
SOLD/REFUNDED 
 FREE
KOLL
ROYALTY
 Wicked Good
 34/1
 0  $2.26
 $11.54
 Make Your Own Luck
 613/0
 0  $4.52
 $213.44
 The Lantern
 89/0
 0  $33.89
 $31.12
 Forbidden Room
 3744/12
 0  $117.49
 $1,307.38

Total Royalties: $1,721.64

Observations: Sales of Make Your Own Luck increased by 531% from the previous month. Sales of Forbidden Room increased approximately 77% from the previous month. I earned more in royalties from the lending library program than from e-book sales for The Lantern.

September 1 – September 30, 2013

BOOK
SOLD/REFUNDED 
 FREE 
KOLL
ROYALTY
 Wicked Good
 65/1 
 0  $4.83
 $22.75
 Make Your Own Luck
 556/4
 0  $21.75
 $193.38
 The Lantern
 311/0
 0  $16.92
 $108.87
 Forbidden Room
 2608/17
 0  $633.16
 $908.68

Total Royalties: $1,910.34


Observations: Sales of The Lantern increased by 249% from the previous month. Sales of Forbidden Room decreased 30% from the previous month. Despite the drop in Forbidden Room sales, total royalty payment increased by about $190.00. This appears to be due to the increase in The Lantern sales and an increase in the amount of times Forbidden Room was borrowed through the lending library.

October 1 – October 31, 2013

BOOK
SOLD/REFUNDED 
 FREE 
KOLL
ROYALTY
 Wicked Good
 47/1 
 0  $5.02
 $16.10
 Make Your Own Luck
 400/6
 0  $15.05
 $138.14
 The Lantern
 122/3
 0  $12.54
 $41.79
 Forbidden Room
 1930/14
 0  $155.53
 $672.19
 Michaelangelo & the Morgue
 28/0
 314  0
 $9.80

Total Royalties: $1,066.16

Observations: All sales and KOLL declined from the previous month (except for Wicked Good where KOLL was about the same).

November 1 – November 30, 2013

BOOK
SOLD/REFUNDED 
 FREE 
KOLL
ROYALTY
 Wicked Good
 54/2 
 0  0
 $18.33
 Make Your Own Luck
 310/0
 0  $7.37
 $108.59
 The Lantern
 63/1
 0  $7.37
 $21.75
Forbidden Room
 1723/14
 0  $147.46
 $597.74
 Michaelangelo & the Morgue
 17/1
 95  0
 $5.72

Total Royalties: $944.33


Observations: Except for Wicked Good, which had a minimal increase in sales, e-book sales continue to decline.

December 1 – December 31, 2013

BOOK
SOLD/REFUNDED 
 FREE 
KOLL
 ROYALTY
 Wicked Good
26/1
 0  $3.71
 $8.67
 Make Your Own Luck
 217/1
 0  $3.71
 $75.02
 The Lantern
 45/0
 0  $14.85
 $15.71
 Forbidden Room
 769/4
 0  $29.70
 $265.90
 Michelangelo & the Morgue
 25/0
 0  $1.86
 $8.72

Total Royalties: $427.85

Observations: Sales continue to decline. I had thought there might be an increase in sales because of the holidays but that did not occur.

January 1 – January 31, 2014

BOOK
SOLD/REFUNDED 
 FREE 
KOLL
 ROYALTY 
KM
 Wicked Good
 19/0
 0  $1.93
 $6.58
 0
 Make Your Own Luck
 183/2
 0  $5.79
   $62.74
 0
 The Lantern
 44/0
 0  $1.93
   $15.31
 0
 Forbidden Room
 651/6
 0  $28.96
 $223.67
1
 Michelangelo & the Morgue
 31/0
 0  0     $10.74
 1

Total Royalties: $357.65

Observations: KM begins. Not much action there. Sales still declining.

February 1 – February 28, 2014

BOOK
SOLD/REFUNDED 
 FREE 
KOLL
 ROYALTY 
KM
Wicked Good
 8/0
 0  0  $2.77
 0
 Make Your Own Luck
 103/0
 0  $2.24
   $35.53
 0
 The Lantern
 48/1
 0  $2.24
   $16.42
 0
 Forbidden Room
 494/1
 0  $26.90
 $171.41
 0
 Michelangelo & the Morgue
 24/0
 0  $2.24
 $8.40
 0

Total Royalties: $268.15

Observations: Sales still are declining. The Lantern holding most steady. No KM.

March 1, 2014 – March 31, 2014*

*All KM = 0

BOOK
 SOLD/REFUNDED 
 FREE 
 KOLL
ROYALTY
 Wicked Good
 17 at 99 cents/0
0 at $2.99
 2006  $2.10
 $9.44 at 99 cents
$0 at $2.99
 Make Your Own Luck
 72 at 99 cents/0
13 at $2.99
 2211  $2.10
 $25.22 at 99  cents
$24.93 at $2.99
 The Lantern
 47 at 99cents/1
16 at $2.99
 2292  $6.31
 $16.16 at 99  cents
$32.32 at $2.99
 Forbidden Room
315 at 99 cents/3
85 at $2.99
 6845  $25.23
 $110.23 at 99 cents
$177.34 at $2.99
 Michelangelo & the Morgue
 26 at 99 cents/0
0 at $2.99

 699  0  $9.04 at 99 cents
$0 at $2.99

Total Royalties: $440.42


Observations: No e-books taken through KM program. In an attempt to draw attention back to my books, I placed all in a free promotion at different times during the month. I was satisfied with the amount of giveaways (14,053). I sold 73% less Forbidden Rooms at $2.99 than at 99 cents, yet earned 37% more at $2.99 price. Sales of The Lantern increased from previous month, even with increase in price. Royalties were up approximately $172.00 from February.

April 1 – April 30, 2014

BOOK
SOLD/REFUNDED 
 FREE 
KOLL
ROYALTY
KM
Wicked Good
 18/0
 0  0 $6.40
 0
 Make Your Own Luck
 51/2
 0  $2.24
  $17.88
 0
 The Lantern
   141/2
 0  $8.95
  $48.79
 0
 Forbidden Room
   271/1
 0   $15.67 
  $94.68
 0
 Michelangelo & the Morgue
 85/0

 0  0
  $29.71

 0

Total Royalties: $224.32

Observations: No e-books again taken through KM program. Sales of The Lantern and Michelangelo & the Morgue continue to increase. Is there a reverse in the trend of my murder mysteries selling better than my historical novels?

May 1 – May 31, 2014*

*I re-uploaded my books to other e-sites such as Barnes & Noble, ITunes, Smashwords, etc. This made my books ineligible on Amazon for free promotions, KOLL and KM.

BOOK
SOLD/REFUNDED 
 FREE 
KOLL
ROYALTY
 Wicked Good
  8/0
0  $2.17
$2.80
 Make Your Own Luck
   42/2
0  0
   $14.75
 The Lantern
     72/10
0  0
   $24.95
 Forbidden Room
    157/1
0  0
   $54.87
 Michelangelo & the Morgue
     18/1 


0  0   $5.91 


Total Royalties: $105.45

Observations: Overall sales down from April by 47%.

Summary of E-Books Sold on Amazon from May 1, 2013 – May 31, 2014

Wicked Good 363

Make Your Own Luck 2,698

The Lantern 1,164

Forbidden Room 16,689

Michelangelo & the Morgue (*October 1, 2013 – March 31, 2014) 252

Total:  21,166 e-books sold on Amazon

Summary of E- Books Given Away on Amazon from 

May 1, 2013 – May 31, 2014

Wicked Good                         7,746

Make Your Own Luck            4,250

The Lantern                            5,899

Forbidden Room                   8,749

Michelangelo & the Morgue (*October 1, 2013 – March 31, 2014) 1108

Total:  27,752 e-books given away on Amazon

Summary of Total E-Books Sold and Given Away on Amazon  

from May 1, 2013 – May 31, 2014

Wicked Good                         8,112

Make Your Own Luck            6,948

The Lantern                            7,063

Forbidden Room                   25,438

Michelangelo & the Morgue (*October 1, 2013 – March 31, 2014) 1,360

Total:  48,918 e-books sold and given away on Amazon

To complete my analysis and to answer the original question posed, the following information may also be pertinent:

Total E-books sold on Amazon from August 2011 – April 2013*

*Forbidden Room and Michelangelo & the Morgue were not published during this time period

*My published books were available on other e-sites (Barnes & Noble, ITunes, Smashwords, etc.) and were not eligible on Amazon for free promotions or other Amazon programs.

Wicked Good 381 (August 2011 – April 2013)

Make Your Own Luck 48 (May 2012 – April 2013)

The Lantern 68 (August 2012 – April 2013)

Total:  497 e-books sold from August 2011 until April 2013

Total E-books sold on Amazon in June 2014*

*During this month, I uploaded my e-books onto other e-sites such as Barnes & Noble and iTunes. Therefore, my books were no longer eligible for free promotions, KOLL and KM on Amazon. I also increased the price of my e-books from 99 cents to $2.99 toward the end of the month.

Wicked Good 6

Make Your Own Luck 29

The Lantern 53

Forbidden Room 150

Michelangelo & the Morgue 14

Total:  252 e-books sold from June 1, 2014 until June 30, 2014

Sales on Other E-Sites for June 2014

Barnes & Noble Nook 3

iTunes/iBooks 1

Smashwords 0

ANALYSIS

I am Thrilled

I am thrilled to have almost 50,000 of my books in circulation. I understand that at 99 cents, some of these might have been impulse buys and people will never read the books. However, the potential is there for almost 50,000 readers to enjoy my novels. As an author who sold less than 500 books the first twenty-one months of being self-published to jump to 21,166 books sold within the next year, is stunning. That is an increase in sales of 4,158%. If I also count books given away, the increase is 9,742%. That’s almost batting 1000. I’ll take those numbers.

But like any ballplayer, I want to know why my percentage has gone down? Why have sales of my books steadily decreased? Can I reverse the trend? Should I not care and instead concentrate solely on writing my next novel?

Sales

My gut feeling is that Amazon promoted Forbidden Room, as well as Make Your Own Luck (although to a lesser degree), which led to a significant increase in the sales of those books.  Did I just get lucky that Amazon noticed me and, without Amazon nudging its readers to check out my books, I would not be looking at these sales numbers? Did the decrease begin when Amazon stopped promoting my novels and word-of-mouth was not significant enough to continue a steady or upward trend in sales? How do I get Amazon to notice my books again?

At 99 cents, I sold more books than at $2.99 however with the general decline in sales of my books at the 99-cent price, I cannot conclude that price is a factor in the downturn.

Free Promotions

I am satisfied with Amazons Free Promotion program and will continue to use it. However, I do not view giveaways as a viable, overall method to increase sales (although the free promotion might have been a factor in Forbidden Room’s initial popularity back in May 2013). While not a way to increase sales, free promotions are beneficial in order to get my books in front of as many readers as I can to build a fan base.

Kindle Owners’ Lending Library

I would like my books to be borrowed more in the lending library and hope that happens. This is a no harm/no foul promotion. In other words, it can only help to have my books involved in the KOLL.

Kindle Match

 I see no value in the program for me as an author, although I will continue to participate in it since it might become more popular with readers.

Reviews

When speaking about promoting e-books, many suggest obtaining reviews add to the amount of books sold, which is why there were (still are?) a rash of planted reviews. However, the data I have collected does not support that the amount of reviews my books have garnered have lead to an increase in books sold. Rather, books sold increase the number of reviews purely based on the statistical possibility that if more people read my books then there is an increased chance of more reviews being posted.

            Consider this chart:

Book
    # E-Books Sold/
      Free Promotions  
       # Of Reviews
 
 Wicked Good
8,112
 42
Make Your Own Luck
6,948
 32
The Lantern
7,063
 48
 Forbidden Room
25,438
 132
Michelangelo & the Morgue
 
1,360
 7

            Simple math reveals the following:

Wicked Good received 1 review for every 193 books sold/given away.

Make Your Own Luck received 1 review for every 217 books sold/given away.

The Lantern received 1 review for every 147 books sold/given away.

Forbidden Room received 1 review for every 192 books sold/given away.

Michelangelo & the Morgue received 1 review for every 194 books sold/given away.           

I do not find these numbers support the hypothesis that more reviews lead to more sales as my best selling book (Forbidden Room) received the same amount of reviews per books sold/given away than my least selling books (Michelangelo & the Morgue and Wicked Good).

Additionally, while Forbidden Room has sold the most copies, has the most reviews and has the worst rating (3.7 stars), Wicked Good has sold the second least amount of e-books and has the best rating (4.7 stars). With an almost perfect rating and one star higher than Forbidden Room, why wouldn’t more people be picking up Wicked Good over Forbidden Room if reviews really made the difference? Is it the number of reviews that impress potential readers rather than the star rating or the quality of the reviews?

While reviews may be a factor for a reader trying to decide whether or not to buy an e-book while browsing (an impulse buy, perhaps, especially at 99 cents), for the most part reviews are a result of the number of books sold/given away (the more people who have access to the book, the more people who will write a review), and not the other way around (sales/giveaways are a result of reviews).

Additional Questions

Do my books simply have a shelf life that has run its course and this is why many authors put out books every few months, regardless of the quality?

Are my books not good enough to be discovered on their own without a push from Amazon?

Would Forbidden Room, which has sold over 21,000 e-books in one year with no other promotion other than Amazon’s programs, have been a New York Times bestseller with a traditional publisher behind it?

CONCLUSIONS

I started this blog post by posing the following question:

As a self-published author, how is it best to utilize Amazon to

sell/giveaway the most e-books possible?

In the process of analyzing the data and drawing conclusions regarding my year on Amazon, no lab rats were harmed and no earth-shattering barriers were broken. Instead, this is one self-published author’s attempt to figure out the best way to get my books before the most readers possible and to build a fan base. Based on all the data I have collected, shared and analyzed—in a wholly unscientific way—this is what I have concluded I will do for my next year as a self-published author:

1.   Take advantage of Amazon’s promotional programs even if it means not uploading my books to other e-sites such as Barnes & Noble, iTunes and Smashwords.

2.   Offer one book for a free promotion for 2-days each week to see if I can draw attention to my novels. It seemed to have worked once for Forbidden Room, maybe it would work again.

3.   For now, I am keeping my e-books priced at $2.99. One reason I am doing this is to try and garner respect in the publishing world as an independent author. Many authors/publishers seem to scoff at writers who price their e-books at 99 cents as a way to “undercut” other authors. I do not want to be considered a “hack”.

4.   With my e-books priced at $2.99, I can test the Kindle Countdown Program by offering a discount to 99 cents, which I will do.

5.   Hope Amazon promotes my books again, independently of its author promotional programs.

6.   Hope my fan base continues to grow.

7.   Appreciate whatever sales/giveaways I have while working on my next novel.

8.   Don’t be obsessed with sales/giveaway numbers. In other words, I will not be checking my KDP stats every hour!

9.   Write the best books I can.

10. My murder mysteries sell better than my historical fiction novels. However, I want to write in both genres so I am going to continue to do so. (See #13 below).

11. To try and take advantage of Forbidden Room’s popularity, I am writing its sequel, called Forbidden Night.

12. In the words of Winston Churchill: “Never give in–never, never, never, never, in anything great or small, large or petty…” and

13. In the words of Amy Lewis Faircloth, my sister and co-author of Wicked Good, “if it’s not fun, don’t do it”.

I hope this has helped you as much as it’s helped me. I’ll let you know how the next year goes.

           

            

Book  Sold/Refunded  FREE  KOLL  ROYALTY 
Wicked Good
7/0  0 $2.45 
Make Your Own Luck
15/0  0 0 $5.24
The Lantern
31/1  0 $2.24 $10.50
Forbidden Room
 
952/5  1904 $15.71 $331.52

Total Royalties: $367.66



Book  Sold/Refunded  FREE  KOLL  ROYALTY 
Wicked Good
31 at 99 cents/3
4 at $2.99
5740 $10.49 at 99 cents
$6.06 at $2.99
Make Your Own Luck
43 at 99 cents/1
0 at $2.99
2039 0 $14.75
The Lantern
78 at 99cents/0
3 at $2.99
2471 $15.67 $28.69 at 99 cents
$6.06 at $2.99
Forbidden Room
 
933 at 99 cents/4  0 $38.06 $328.28 at 99 cents
$69.36 at $2.99

Total Royalties: $517.43


Book  Sold/Refunded  FREE  KOLL  ROYALTY 
Wicked Good
31 at 99 cents/3
4 at $2.99
5740 $10.49 at 99 cents
$6.06 at $2.99
Make Your Own Luck
43 at 99 cents/1
0 at $2.99
2039 0 $14.75
The Lantern
78 at 99cents/0
3 at $2.99
2471 $15.67 $28.69 at 99 cents
$6.06 at $2.99
Forbidden Room
 
933 at 99 cents/4  0 $38.06 $328.28 at 99 cents
$69.36 at $2.99

Total Royalties: $517.43


Book  Sold/Refunded  FREE  KOLL  ROYALTY 
Wicked Good
31 at 99 cents/3
4 at $2.99
5740 $10.49 at 99 cents
$6.06 at $2.99
Make Your Own Luck
43 at 99 cents/1
0 at $2.99
2039 0 $14.75
The Lantern
78 at 99cents/0
3 at $2.99
2471 $15.67 $28.69 at 99 cents
$6.06 at $2.99
Forbidden Room
 
933 at 99 cents/4  0 $38.06 $328.28 at 99 cents
$69.36 at $2.99

Total Royalties: $517.43


Book  Sold/Refunded  FREE  KOLL  ROYALTY 
Wicked Good
31 at 99 cents/3
4 at $2.99
5740 $10.49 at 99 cents
$6.06 at $2.99
Make Your Own Luck
43 at 99 cents/1
0 at $2.99
2039 0 $14.75
The Lantern
78 at 99cents/0
3 at $2.99
2471 $15.67 $28.69 at 99 cents
$6.06 at $2.99
Forbidden Room
 
933 at 99 cents/4  0 $38.06 $328.28 at 99 cents
$69.36 at $2.99

Total Royalties: $517.43


Book  Sold/Refunded  FREE  KOLL  ROYALTY 
Wicked Good
31 at 99 cents/3
4 at $2.99
5740 $10.49 at 99 cents
$6.06 at $2.99
Make Your Own Luck
43 at 99 cents/1
0 at $2.99
2039 0 $14.75
The Lantern
78 at 99cents/0
3 at $2.99
2471 $15.67 $28.69 at 99 cents
$6.06 at $2.99
Forbidden Room
 
933 at 99 cents/4  0 $38.06 $328.28 at 99 cents
$69.36 at $2.99

Total Royalties: $517.43