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Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Indie Challenge: Getting Books Into Stores—Part 2

By Brandilyn Collins

Brandilyn Collins is a best-selling author of 27 books. She is best known for her Seatbelt Suspense®--fast-paced, character-driven suspense with myriad twists and an interwoven thread of faith. She also writes insightful contemporary novels, often laced with humor. Her awards include the ACFW Carol (three times), Inspirational Readers' Choice, the Inspy, Christian Retailer's Best, and Romantic Times Reviewers' Choice.

Last month I talked about my career decision to break from traditional publishing after 25 books and go indie. I was gearing up for the release of Sidetracked, my first indie Seatbelt Suspense®. I also talked about entering into an agreement to include Sidetracked in the new Jerry Jenkins Select Line, which will be distributed to stores by Anchor. (The organization Jerry owns, Christian Writers Guild, has teamed up with Believers Press to offer this new line of books by known Christian novelists. The five other authors included in the launch are Angela Hunt, Hannah Alexander, Bill Myers, Robin Jones Gunn, and Sammy Tippit. Read about the books here.) Distribution into stores is the one missing piece for indie books, so I was willing to gamble that the extra money I paid Believers Press for layout/cover and marketing the book would pay off. I promised to update you this month.

Sidetracked paper copies just began shipping yesterday from the distributor, so it’s a few weeks before I’ll begin to know sell-in numbers. One thing I can report is that Barnes & Noble stores will do a special promotion on Sidetracked and one other book from the Select Line—Hallowed Halls by Hannah Alexander—at a discounted price. They ordered 1000 extra copies of each book for the promotion. This is a great opportunity, and it would not have happened had I just published the paper version through Createspace.

As for the digital side, Sidetracked hit the Kindle on April 1 and the Nook on the 10th. A few days later it was also on iTunes. Ebook sales are separate from the paper sales in that the money I spent on marketing—such as for endcaps in Christian bookstores—is geared toward selling in paper. I’m responsible for marketing the ebooks. In April I used a staggered approach to getting the word out through my newsletter, Sneak Pique; Facebook; Twitter; and a blog post. I paid a bit on Facebook to promote an update about Sidetracked—which quickly made back the small investment. That’s the only money I spent marketing the ebook. I will be spending some more—under $100—for ebook marketing on various sites in May and June.

By the way, tracking daily sales numbers makes all the difference in marketing! How do I know my Facebook push paid for itself? Because I saw the numbers immediately go up.

Ebook sales were much higher than I’d expected. (Well, really, this being my first indie suspense, I wasn’t sure what to expect.) In its first month of digital sales, Sidetracked outsold in units all of my traditionally published books in their first month of digital sales. And the royalties surpassed what my trad books had made in digital royalties during their entire first year. During most of April Amazon Kindle rankings of Sidetracked were in the 1900 to 2200 range, with it ranking in the top ten of its three categories. Most important, it was listed within the top three of the "Hot New Listings" for its main category, which means the cover was shown on the page for Christian mystery/suspense. Sales have fallen some as of May 1, which is why I'm planning extra marketing to bring them back up. But yesterday Sidetracked hit the Top Rated list at #2 for Christian mystery/suspense. So that bit of promotion should also help.

Three reasons for the higher first-month sales, methinks. One, launches of my trad books were more focused on paper sales, so digital sales always lagged far behind. Two, by cutting out the middle man, I am making an average of three times more per unit than what I made in trad royalties. Three, the ebooks sell better because they’re better priced. Sidetracked is at $4.99. Publishers often put out new ebooks around $9.99. Price really does matter, especially to a reader who’s not familiar with me and is taking a chance on buying that first book. Lower price, higher royalties. My readers win and so do I.

No doubt two other things are helping sales. Reviews started going up pretty quickly, and readers are ranking the book high. As I write this Sidetracked has 41 reviews and a 4.9 ranking. (Which is why it's hit the Top Rated list.) Also, the cover is eye-catching. Believers Press did a good job with it. However, my trad books enjoy very favorable reviews and good covers, too. So these two things in themselves could not explain the better sales.

The first month of digital sales is great news, of course. But as far as my extra investment goes, the real test will be seeing how the paper copies perform. I hope to have more to report about that next month.


  1. Sounds encouraging, BC. I still wonder if self-publishing is the right move for the first time author. On the other hand, can it hurt? Assuming I've worked hard and put as much effort into it as a traditional. Time will tell. I'm still amazed (or amused) that trad publishers are still listing e-books at such a high price point. There are some amazing self-pubbed authors out there selling books for $2. Why in the world would we pay $10? Interesting times to be a writer. Plenty of opportunity for the rookie and the veteran.

  2. I'd say it all depends on how well written the book is. It all comes down to story in the end. If it's a great story, Like Ms B's always are, they're going to sell. Word of mouth, along with some marketing, will make it happen. But if a first time author goes Indie with a book that needed massive editing, nothing will make those numbers good. And that could hurt. Of course, Ron, that's MHO.

  3. I agree with Ane. And I also hear what Ron is saying. I know a group of gals, many of whom went indie from the beginning, and they're doing well. But they really work at it, putting out books and knowing their marketing.

  4. Thanks, as always, Brandilyn, for your transparacy, willingness to blaze trails (and then fill the rest of us in on the process).

  5. Reading Sidetracked now. Classic Brandilyn. Really good story with her own voice and style.

    Thanks for the follow-up, BC. Good to know. And so agree with pricing for ebooks. Shooting yourself in the foot with high prices. Most readers will wait until the price drops on a book they want. Surveys showed most readers don't want to pay over $5 for novels in ebooks.

    Although I don't disagree with you, Ron, you know how difficult it is to get traditionally published. And a good editor can always be hired for indie/self publishers. So many currently published books do not prove that "good" writing gets a book published. Just sayin'.

  6. Fascinating to walk through this with you. Thanks for letting us tag along.

  7. I definitely think there are times when a debut author SHOULD go indie, especially if said author doesn't really fit into the genre openings publishers are looking to fill. If you know your audience, like Brandilyn said, you can become an even more effective marketer for your books that tradpubs. AND you can keep your prices lower, to boot. Congrats on your book's success, Brandilyn!


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