Sunday, March 29, 2020

After-Action Report: Facebook Advertising for BATTLE FOR THE WASTELANDS

Once upon a time, I used Facebook to advertise this very blog and all was well, getting me 3,000 hits in a month. When the time came for me to promote my independent fantasy novel Battle for the Wastelands, I decided to go back to Facebook advertising. I created a new Facebook Page in order to use it, but owing to a clumsy and bizarre ad interface (the one I used years ago was much simpler), I ended up making two ad campaigns by accident. One was targeted too broadly (at pretty much everybody in the United States if I remember right) and although I did manage one sale, I shut it down pretty quickly to keep it profitable. The second campaign was more narrowly targeted, focusing on adventure fiction, apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic, fantasy, steampunk, and e-books and didn't turn out very well. I spent $8.96 and made, as far as I know, no sales whatsoever before I shut it down.


After the failure of my initial Amazon ad campaigns, I decided to give Facebook another try. I went to my Facebook fan page and boosted a post pushing Battle that said it was free for the Kindle March 15 and March 16, although the ad campaign was slated to run for five days.

(By the way, using "boost post" on your Facebook page allows for much easier targeting than the ad interface. Furthermore, getting into Facebook ads through the Facebook page rather than going into the ads directly also allows access to a much easier interface. Perhaps Facebook has tweaked its operations again, or the easier ad campaigns I remember from years ago were done through my now-defunct "Matthew W. Quinn: Speculative Fiction Writer" page rather than directly in the ad system.)

For my free-book campaign, I targeted people in the United States interested in "steampunk" and "Western." I budgeted $50 for that ad campaign in hopes of moving a lot of freebies and thus getting a lot of reviews on Amazon and Goodreads in addition to helpfully providing people in coronavirus lock-down something entertaining to read.

And in that respect, my campaign succeeded massively. Although I also shared the link around to certain Facebook groups (skewing the numbers and also-boughts--for example, sharing in the Facebook group dedicated to author S.M. Stirling meant a lot of Shadows of Annihilation also-boughts), my ad reached 6,609 people and got 402 clicks. I moved 233 free e-books and at least five people on Goodreads marked it as "currently reading" or "to read," with one person giving it a rating (3/5 stars) on Goodreads 3/19/ If only five percent of the people who got the free e-book decide to review, that's 11 new reviews, something I very much need. During this period, I also got 470 Kindle Unlimited page-views, which comes out to be $2.68, even though since it was free on Amazon they didn't need to spend any money at all. And in the remaining days of the campaign, I also sold seven e-books ($19.18 royalties) and got 508 Kindle Unlimited page-views ($2.44). Although this combined $24.30 covered slightly less than half of the advertising cost, I'm hoping the additional reviews generated from the freebies  will set Battle up for long-term success.

Then I decided to see what Facebook advertising alone could do, avoiding the confounding variable of posting the freebie link in different Facebook groups, on Twitter, etc. After giving it a couple days for the sales to cool off (I still made one e-book sale, one paperback sale, and got twenty KU page-reads), I created two new Facebook ads. One was a retread of the original ad focusing on Western and steampunk, while the other was more ambitious, targeting people interested in fantasy books, dark fantasy (although Battle is not supernatural dark fantasy in the vein of Hellraiser, it's bleak and morally gray like A Game of Thrones), and Stephen King's Dark Tower series and The Gunslinger. After all, my sales pitch for Battle (which got me some print sales at Days of the Dead this past year) is "Dark Tower meets Game of Thrones." I led my ad copy with "Free on Kindle Unlimited" so people wouldn't think they were clicking on an ad for a video game or film, something I learned from one of my podcasts. I budgeted $150 for the first campaign, given its predecessor's success, and $60 for the second, not wishing to spend too much money overall and wanting to keep my ads fairly focused.

In terms of sales made, the campaign was a massive success. Although there are still some confounding variables (like a purchase that might have been from a member of my writing group reading my twice-a-month newsletter rather than through the Amazon campaign), I sold fifteen e-books ($41.10 royalties) and two print books ($5.81 royalties) between the ad's premiere on March 22 and its conclusion on March 28. In that same time period, there were 2,790 Kindle Unlimited pages read for a total of approximately $13.39. I also saw an uptick on sales rank for my first novel The Thing in the Woods and The Best of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly Vol. 2, a collection I have a story in, on March 23 and March 24. The first ad campaign reached nearly 21,000 people and got 655 link clicks, while the broader second one reached a little over 9,000 people and got 247 link clicks.

However, the gross revenues came out to be roughly $60.39 against the $215 I ended up spending. That actually represents a much larger net loss than my Amazon campaigns, although I brought in around four times more gross revenue. Although paperback sales don't post until they actually ship (and the coronavirus situation means shipping books is less of a priority), I doubt I sold enough paperbacks to make a significant difference. Hopefully this campaign will generate some reviews once people have time to finish reading--after all, four people on Goodreads marked it as "currently reading" in the 3/22-28 range and I got one rating (4/5 stars) on 3/25.

In conclusion, although Facebook advertising is still a money-loser overall (at least if I've got just one book in the series), I was able to move a lot more copies than using Amazon's advertising platform. This knowledge will come in handy when I post my own edition of Thing and its forthcoming sequel The Atlanta Incursion, since those who buy Thing might in turn buy TAI. Once I get "Son of Grendel" posted and especially once the second Wastelands novel goes up, then Facebook advertising Battle again might be a good idea.

And if I decide to go with another Facebook ad campaign for Battle, I think I'll use the first ad but narrow it further. In addition to "steampunk" and "Western," I'll add "Kindle Unlimited" and "Kindle" to the keywords keep the focus on e-books. Also a lower budget so it's easier to cover the costs--the first campaign covered half its costs (when two of the five days it was making KU peanuts), while the second campaign only covered a little over a quarter.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Adventures in Amazon Advertising: BATTLE FOR THE WASTELANDS

One of the reasons that I independently published Battle for the Wastelands rather than continuing to submit to traditional publishers is that I wanted to use it as a test-bed for various book-marketing plans I've learned via writing podcasts like The Sell More Books Show and The Six-Figure Author (successor to The Science Fiction and Fantasy Marketing Podcast). Although the coronavirus outbreak has scuppered my usual strategy of "sell books at lots of events and get lots of e-mails for the newsletter" (seriously, that's how I've made most of my money from 2017 when The Thing in the Woods came out until today), on the bright side that's given me some very strong incentive to try other methods.


However, even before the outbreak I ran a series of Amazon advertising campaigns using relevant keyword sets for searching like "post-apocalyptic," "western," and "steampunk." I also attached Battle as a sponsored product to similar books like William R. Forstchen's the Lost Regiment series, books like the Atomic Sea series by Jack Conner (who blurbed it), etc.

Results were mostly negative, although they did help me learn a bit about keywords that might be more successful. Here's a breakdown:

*One Amazon campaign using various derivatives of "western" like "western books for Kindle" and "western weird" got me three Battle sales for a total of $11.97 at a cost of $17.88. Battle is in the Kindle Unlimited program and I do remember upticks on Kindle Unlimited page-reads during this period, but I don't think it's enough to cover the difference. Plus $11.97 divided by the three copies is $3.99, the e-book list price and not my net profit, so the profitability gap is even larger. The "western weird" keyword set got me two sales totaling $7.98 for a spend of $0.51, which to quote the great Borat is "very nice," but "western books for Kindle" got me one sale for $8.60 spend, a substantial loss. And two variants of "Western Kindle" spent $8.77 between them for no sales at all.

*Another advertising campaign ate $28.73 for no sales whatsoever. That one was focused on post-apocalyptic fiction with military fiction as the follow-up. A keyword related to steampunk that was almost an afterthought spent $2.55 for no sales and that was the best performer in that campaign. 😭 This was the first ad campaign I straight up shut down to stop the bleeding money-wise.

I think the reason that happened is that post-apocalyptic readers prefer stories that take place immediately after the apocalypse or within a relatively short time (think The Walking Dead, Zombie Road, or various EMP-type books), while the apocalyptic event in the Wastelands world was centuries in the past. This is more secondary-world fantasy with an apocalyptic background--Lord of the Rings had the Fall of Numenor and the decline of its colonies/successor states like Arnor and Gondor in Middle-Earth as the background and my short story "Lord of the Dolorous Tower" has a comet impact the medieval-ish society remember as "the Hammer of the Heavens." Meanwhile, Wastelands has...well, I can't get into that for spoiler reasons. :)

*Another ad, with a focus on steampunk, netted one sale at a cost of $18.94. The keywords that got that sale are "steampunk fiction" (broad), while "steampunk fiction" (phrase) lost money and "steampunk books" lost lots of money.

*An ad campaign focused on steampunk books, in particular higher-selling ones, only got clicks on three of the six books and made no sales on those and straight up lost nearly $7 on "steampunk fiction" as a category.

I think there's at least one more ad campaign there, but I'm pretty sure you get the point. As a result of all this, I shut down all my Amazon ad campaigns, period. Although Kindle Unlimited pay-reads--and those did go up--does provide a bit of "fudge factor," the profitability gap was so large that there is no way hundreds of pages at half a cent each was covering them.

In some discussions online about Amazon and Facebook advertising, someone I've talked with said that AMS ads make a lot more sense if you've got a series rather than just one book. That way, even if only 10% of people who click buy your book, if a bunch of those go on to buy later books, that ad is a lot more likely to pay for itself. This bodes well for my planned related novella "Son of Grendel," which will probably be out sometime in the spring once I make some revisions and get it formatted.

And if I do give Amazon ads another spin before I have another Wastelands story out, "Western weird" might be the way to go. 😎

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Selling My Own Books, In-Person or Online

I once heard the reason Taylor Swift is so rich is that she knows that musicians don't get most of their money from record sales, but from touring. And she likes to tour. Consequently, she is probably one of richest 30-somethings on the planet rather than some forlorn artist who made a lot of money for the record label but not much for themselves.

The same logic applies to books. Once the retailer, distributor, and publisher get their share (and I'm not faulting them for wanting to be paid for their portion of the work, especially low-margin small presses), there's less for the author. One solution for authors looking to make more money, therefore, is to sell direct. I've heard of more complex methods of doing this, such as selling bookmarks with a QR code linked to a one-time e-book download, but the method I settled on was buying lots of my stock wholesale from the publisher and hitting up event like science fiction conventions, gun shows, local festivals, etc.

Then I moved onto selling directly online, selling my wholesale copies of Little People, Big Guns and Battle for the Wastelands to people I knew online or in real life. Some bought through Amazon, while I made individual arrangements via PayPal or Facebook (which now has a "send money" option).

That's come in particularly handy this weekend, which was supposed to be the Atlanta Sci-Fi and Fantasy Expo. I first attended that event in 2018 and that was the first event where I sold through a complete print run of The Thing in the Woods. The second event in 2019 was less successful because the only new thing I had was The Best of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly Vol. 2, in which I had only one story and people from the previous year were expecting new stuff. I was looking forward to this year's event because I had new books like Battle, LPBG, and my reissued short-story collection Flashing Steel, Flashing Fire, but then the coronavirus outbreak happened.

(Not really blaming them for canceling--not only do medical professionals recommend avoiding large crowds at the moment, but on a more self-interested level if they went through with it, attendance numbers would likely crater and nobody would make any money. Better to wait.)

So although it's unfortunate the event got canceled, I've got the infrastructure in place to sell signed copies to anybody in the United States. If you wanted to attend the Atlanta Sci-Fi and Fantasy Expo (or the Dalton local-author festival that got canceled 3/21) and are interested in a signed printed copy, go to the Amazon page for the book you'd like and find the $15 "collectible" signed book sold by MatthewWQuinn. Alternatively, e-mail me and we can work something out via PayPal or Facebook.

One person has already contacted me about a two-book deal, so let's get this going. :)

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Putting Novellas In Packages...

At some point in the next few months, I'm going to put out a new novella "Son of Grendel," which is set in the world of my novel Battle for the Wastelands roughly a year or so before the book begins. The cover has already been completed by artist Matt Cowdery, who did the cover for Battle and the upcoming sequel.


However, in order to get 70% royalties on Amazon, one has to charge $2.99 or more per book. That's easy to justify with a full novel, but harder with a shorter work. A 70% royalty on a $2.99 e-book is $2.10 or so, but 35% royalty on a $1.99 e-book is $0.70. That's no way to make money. And if I've got a quality cover and had the formatting done professionally, that's a lot of costs to cover even at a higher royalty before I make a profit.

Consequently, although I'm going to release "Son of Grendel" as a standalone since most of the work has already been done (I just need to do writing group revisions, perhaps add a couple new scenes, and then have it formatted for e-book), future novellas set in the worlds of Battle or The Thing in the Woods will be released in packages of three.

(I've got to give credit to Delilah S. Dawson, Kevin Hearne, and Chuck Wendig for the concept--they released three novellas in a package called Three Slices.)

Not only can putting three novellas together into something approximately novel-length justify charging a novel-equivalent price, but I can print the book to sell at conventions. That's how I make most of my writing money anyway, so having more to sell is always a plus.

I even have ideas for what the first three-novella package will look like. It'll be entitled Warriors: Three Novellas of the Wastelands or something to that effect and will feature the following stories:

*I'd lead with "Son of Grendel," since it would be the first one published. Falki Grendelsson, heir to the first lord of the Northlands, is sent on a counterinsurgency mission and things don't go according to plan.

*Next comes "Ruled in Rage," which is approximately a fifth written right now. It's Grendel's origin story--how he adopts the name, how he meets his right hand Alexander Matthews, and how he begins to walk the trail of blood that will someday make him the ruler of the known world. Although he's in his teens, we'll see a lot of the traits that mark him in middle age--his cunning, his lechery, etc. The title is an allusion to Beowulf, which is heavily tied into the Wastelands' series overarching plot.

*The third novella is tentatively titled "A Valkyrie Is Born," but that's probably going to change. The Valkyries are part of Norse mythology and thus more associated with Grendel and his Sejeran (Norse) allies, plus the title is a bit on the long side. This is a story of Alyssa Carson, Andrew's love interest from the first book, and her family's...grotesque...encounter with the cannibalistic Flesh-Eating Legion after the fall of the Merrills.

*Alternatively, the third novella could be "A Creature of the Fall." This one takes place over a decade before Battle and will feature Alonzo Merrill in his very early teens and his serious-minded elder brother John. There will be battle with the Flesh-Eaters, a great big hint as to what happened to end the Old World, and perhaps the dirigible bombing of the Flesh-Eater capital that gives their overlord Jasper Clark such a massive grudge against the Merrills.

Given the potential for some of these stories to grow into full novels (most likely to happen with "Ruled"), having different options for the third novella is always a good idea. I could make a package of four--two stories from the villains and two from the heroes--but that'd risk it getting too long. Realistically I'd probably save "Creature" for a future installment, especially since including an Alyssa story would prevent the collection from being a boys' club and I want to foreshadow the reason for the Fall closer to the final book.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Next Events: Augusta Toy and Comic Show, Ringgold Next Chapter Con, and Atlanta SFF Expo

Although I had several events lined up for the spring and summer, COVID-19 has knocked my convention game on its heels. The Atlanta Comic-Con, historically my biggest earner, was delayed until 2021, while the Atlanta Sci-Fi and Fantasy Expo, the occasion for the original version of this post, was delayed until the summer and then as of now November (more on that later). Fortunate, I'm not out of the game yet. I attended a Dalton-based event called ConFinement (hee-hee) in June and I've got events slated for September and November.


My first event will be the Augusta Toy and Comic Show, September 5th and 6th in Augusta, Georgia. I have some relatives in town I can stay with, so I won't have to worry about hotel expenses. I've historically done very well at comic events, but people who go to toy shows typically aren't interested in books. This will be the official premiere of The Atlanta Incursion (the sequel to The Thing in the Woods) and the print version of "Son of Grendel" (short prequel to Battle for the Wastelands) so hopefully I'll be able to make a lot of "two for $20" cash deals.



My next event will be the Next Chapter Con in Ringgold, GA, near the Tennessee border on September 19. Last year I served as a panelist and made both a great deal of money (I don't remember how much) and got a lot of e-mails for (my semi-monthly newsletter). And that was with only two books, Thing and The Best of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly Vol. 2. This time around I've got a bunch more inventory to sell and I'll be able to notify people who'd attend last year in advance that I'll be coming. I'm definitely looking forward to this one.


Finally, I'll be coming to The Atlanta Sci-Fi and Fantasy Expo for the third time. The first time I attended I sold an entire print run of The Thing in the Woods, but the second time was less lucrative--a lot of people had bought books at the last one or at other events asked if I had anything new to sell. Well now I've got a lot more to sell--Little People, Big Guns,Battle for the Wastelands, "Son of Grendel," and Flashing Steel, Flashing Fire in addition to my remaining stock of The Best of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly Vol. 2. Based on some e-mails I've exchanged with the convention organizers, the event will be broken up across several weekends in November and I'll be attending one of those. Hopefully I'll be able to coordinate my stuff with relevant or popular panels, plus I've got visitors from the last couple years on my newsletter list.

So even though COVID wrecked my summer convention schedule, I might still be able to make bank this fall, especially with my larger inventory. Fingers crossed!