where the writers are
It's Still a Marathon, not a Sprint

The rest of this month is going to be very busy for me. My daughter, Nicole is running in the LA Marathon. For those of you familiar with the area, the race starts at Dodger Stadium and finishes by the Santa Monica Pier. Feel free to show up anywhere along the route and cheer her on. She'll be wearing bib # 6580. I'll be flying out with her, and visiting my parents. Then, after I get back, I'll have a few days before I leave for Left Coast Crime in Sacramento.

And because I have marathons on my mind, I thought it would be a good time to revisit my e-publishing philosophy: It's a marathon, not a sprint.

I've seen countless people playing with pricing, frantically scheduling books for free, doing everything they can to get their books noticed in the rankings. (And we're talking primarily Amazon here, since they're still the 500 pound gorilla for most indie publishers)

They're tweeting, begging for everyone else to tweet that their books are free, or on sale. They're posting on countless Facebook groups that have turned into nothing more than "buy my book" sites. Since telling me to buy your book doesn't entice me to buy it, I figure others feel the same way.

While I agree that it's important to keep one's name out there, I'm more of the tortoise in this race. I've played the Twitter game and seen my sales go … nowhere. Now, true, who knows how many people have added samples to their e-readers, but I've yet to see a sales spike after a Tweet-a-thon.

What I have seen is a slow and steady increase in my sales. Some mathematically inclined readers might be able to calculate slopes or other fancy stuff, but I was on a steady climb through December, and then the slope increased. I attribute this primarily to more e-readers out there, but also because (I hope) people are now finishing the first books of mine they've read and going back to pick up more.

As for pricing. My 99 cents books are selling much better than my $2.99 ones, but there's also the theory that a lot of readers think free or 99 cent books must be of inferior quality.

Amazon has neat little graphs that show rankings over time. The following is for WHAT'S IN A NAME? over the last 6 months. You can see that after some drastic fluctuations, it's now holding relatively steady.

Book pages will tell you your overall ranking, and then, if you're doing well enough, they'll also calculate where you stand in your specific genre. For example, if I want to see the top 100 books in Romantic Suspense, I can filter the search for just those books. The algorithm for sticking those ranking numbers onto books is based on things like how many other titles in that genre were sold during a particular time period. Thus, if I sell 50 books in an hour, and everyone else has a "slow hour", my ranking will skyrocket as opposed to selling those same 50 books over the course of a day, or selling those 50 books in an hour when other authors are selling 100 books in the same hour.

Would it be nice to see my books in that coveted top 100 list? Sure. But I have to be realistic. You know who else writes romantic suspense? J.D. Robb. You know how many of her books are out there? Lots. And I think almost every one of them is in the top 100, which means there are that many fewer slots for people like little me.

I've watched my books start out at rankings in the million range. Now, my better selling books are steady in the 4000-8000 range. Sure, it would be nice to see a book at #25, or even #99, but how long would that last if the only way I could get it there would be to set it to free for a few days, and then it would fall back to its "normal" rank.

Note: these are MY results, and mileage will vary. After a week of offering a free book at Smashwords for their big "Read an eBook Week" promotion, I "sold" only the free title, and none of the half-price book. Some see an uptick in sales across the board for all their books. Some see the bargain book rise and stay up there. But I've never had that kind of luck—and I do believe there's a LOT of luck in this business. Or, as my computer programmer critique partner prefers to say, "factors you don't know about and therefore can't account for."