While my first year being a published author has been going great guns in the UK, things have got off to a fairly quiet start in the USA.
That’s pretty much par for the course for a debut British novel, I’m told, and The Night Rainbow hasn’t done too badly. Considering there was no ‘launch campaign’ as such, around release time in April there was some great coverage in book shops, and I’ve had a modest royalty cheque, so hurray!
Then this week, Amazon.com chose The Night Rainbow for their Kindle Daily Deal. I don’t know how that works, but I am thrilled they did.
As a rule I don’t follow my rankings on Amazon, because
- a) Frankly, I can’t actually affect them.
- b) The numbers swing wildly about and it’s pretty unfathomable how they relate to actual books sold.
- c) They change every hour. Can you imagine how distracting that would be to a writer if you let it?
But yesterday I made an exception, because I was interested in how the promotion – which saw the ebook price fall from around €9 to $2.99 for 24 hours – would go. Looking over the months since launch, sales on Amazon of both the printed and the e-book appear to have been close to non-existent. Yesterday my sales ranking in the Kindle Store shot up by 954,681% (apparently*). From roughly #250,000 to #25 in the paid kindle store. That’s pretty close to the top of the list.
And at the end of the day I got to see this, which although a fleeting phenomenon, is no less exciting and, most importantly, gets The Night Rainbow noticed by readers who otherwise wouldn’t have ever come across it:
Amazon USA Literary and Contemporary Fiction: #2
And also this:
Amazon Canada Literary and Contemporary Fiction: #6
I don’t know what my sales were for the day exactly (they certainly didn’t increase by a million percent) but they did shoot up quite remarkably and continued for a while after the Deal had finished, when the ebook was back to full price.
The Daily Deal was November 26th 2013, so if you’re interested in seeing how the ebook is ranking now, click here.
I also followed the ‘noise’ around the promotion. And it’s not just Amazon who market it. They publicise the deal onsite and send out emails to Kindle users, but I also noticed that on twitter and on the web in general there are lots of accounts set up to catch these deals and shout them out to their followers and readers, magnifying the effect. *It was one of those accounts that tweeting the amazing 954,681% leap in ranking. It’s a machine that works very effectively.
So far so good. Has anyone got to this point yet without screaming,
- “Yes! But it’s AMAZON!”
- “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Franzen etc”,
- “Bookshops closing!”
- “Death by ebook!”
Or something similar?
Well, yes. So to the thorny question of Amazon. As a reader, I’m a bookshop girl. I love bookshops. I love choosing books in bookshops and chatting to people who work there. As an author I also love bookshops. I love the warm welcome you get from the dedicated, passionate independent booksellers and from their customers, who they often know by name.
But Amazon have about a 30% market share of books in the USA. Many people now go straight to Amazon when they want to buy a book, and an even greater percentage when they want to buy an ebook. And obviously book shops don’t sell ebooks for Kindle (although Amazon are offering them the chance, which is a whole other debate).
Some people do prefer reading books electronically and the people that took a chance on my book yesterday because of a promotional price point and a big shout out from Amazon are not people who would have bought a paper copy from a book shop. Otherwise they’d have done it sometime in the last 7 months, I’d have thought. They are, however, people who will read it, hopefully be delighted by it, and hopefully tell that to other people.
Sometimes, as authors, it’s suggested that when we ‘self-promote’ we should limit that to encouraging people to go to bookshops. When the question of Amazon, or indeed supermarkets, comes up, even if they’ve helped market and sell actual quantities of our work, we are expected to hum and ha and shuffle our feet nervously. I did tweet several times yesterday to let people know about the offer. And every time I did, I must admit I felt worried that people might judge me for inadvertently ‘supporting’ Amazon.
But in the end, is it we authors who are responsible for the struggles that bookshops face? I don’t think so. Most authors I know would happily do signings at bookshops, support library reading groups etc., even if they find public appearances rather painful (the authors not the reading groups).
Nor are we responsible for where readers choose to shop. We have excruciatingly little influence, quite frankly, over who buys our book and from where. We can tweet our little hearts out, but unless we seriously set about a time-consuming social media campaign, it’s just not our call. The greatest influence we have is in the quality of our writing.
So, if a retailer stocks our books and readers buy them, enabling us to feed our kids and write more books, then we are happy. And if we can give that income a little boost along the way, then generally we will, as best we can.
Yesterday’s Amazon promotion was a great opportunity to boost awareness of The Night Rainbow in the USA and Canada. It’s the kind of novel that thrives on word of mouth recommendations, and as many authors can tell you, it can be frustratingly difficult to kick those off.
I hope the people who picked up the e-book for $2.99 yesterday will love it, and that they’ll consider giving it as a gift (wherever they choose to buy it) or just tell others what they thought.
And also that they will want to buy the next book. Speaking of which I’m off to finish it. Hopefully there’ll be news on that soon.
Since posting this a couple of good articles have shown up on this topic, so links are here:
New York Times tongue in cheek, what Amazon is to a modern author
New online retailer opens up in UK to offer online alternative to Amazon (The Bookseller)