Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Strange, Unpredictable Creature That Is Sales

Two blog posts from me in one day? Wow. Lucky you ;-) Fact is, my wife left a few hours ago for a several-days trip to West Virginia. Without her lounging around (and causing me to want to lounge around too), I feel the need to be halfway productive among all my Wii gaming sessions.


Sales is a strange beast. You truly never know what will happen. Take "Harry Potter" for example. Or John Locke's books and Amanda Hocking's books. I am sure that many books just as good (or better) have languished on the sales pile. (This goes for TV, too. Many critically acclaimed shows do not get many viewers, while reality TV gets more eyeballs than an eyeballs factory. Disclaimer: I love "The Bachelor" and "The Bachelorette." Commence egg throwing at me.)

Another digression! Since I typed "Creature" in the title, all I can think about is this thing I did a while ago (see picture on right). Might as well use this creature to represent the sales beast ;-)

Now, in the other blog post I did today, I tacked on an addition about sales. Here's the addition in its entirety:

*** Edited: Someone reminded me about the sales metric as regards promotion. Being deaf has not hurt me here either. My sales are very, very good. "Waiting" in particular I have to thank for letting me write full time. Since shortly after it was released, "Waiting" has been a mainstay in the Amazon top 20 lesfic and was even in there twice a few times as a print book and e-book. It outsells my other books combined and accounts for about 60 percent of my overall revenue.Why? I have a few theories (maybe that's a subject for another post) but bringing this back to the issue of me being deaf, the fact that I've been able to cut down on my other work and write full time pretty much tells you that being deaf is not hurtful at all. Again, the writing speaks for itself.

(End of addition)

I thought it might be interesting to analyze why some books do well and others not so well. I can tell you it's frustrating.

I released "Strange Bedfellows" in ebook at the end of August (print in September). I asked reviewers to do .... REVIEWS. Yes! Reviews. I could've asked the reviewers to cook for me or juggle clowns, but what they do is reviews ;-) So, some did reviews, and I got several reviews without asking for them. All reviews were overwhelmingly good. Great critical acclaim, yadda yadda. So how were sales? Not as good as I had hoped. "Strange Bedfellows" dipped in and out of the lesfic top 100 (it did hit #1 in Germany at one point for both gay and lesbian English books, which thrilled me to no end. However, there are not many German buyers). I'll admit I was discouraged. One thing that kept popping up was that readers thought from the blurb that the book was a comedy. I reworked the blurb to lend it a more-serious tone ("Strange Bedfellows" a comedy? Far from it).

 OLD BLURB: What happens when the queen of the ex-gay movement decides to come out of the closet? The person who helps Frances Dourne with this enormous task is a call girl Frances hires. A call girl with a secret of her own. Can they learn to trust each other enough to find the love they seek in each other's arms?

NEW BLURB: Frances Dourne is apparently a shining example for ex-gays. She runs Gay is a Choice, a national ex-gays group. What people do not know is that she is deeply unhappy. She is ready to come out of the closet and be true to herself. She seeks help and feedback--and okay, maybe a sexual treat or two--from a high-class call girl.

Elena, the call girl, wants to escape from the realities of her past, and her job allows her to do so. She never gets attached to her clients, but her new client surprises her. Can Elena and Frances learn to trust each other enough to find the love they seek in each other's arms?

Sales picked up for about a week, then returned to the previous position.

Well, dang. Color me frustrated. I knew I had a great book, so why were people not buying it? I knew one factor was a backlist. The more books I had out, the more sales would go up (for all the books). I also felt the subject matter might have something to do with it. The main characters are an ex-gays group leader who is finally admitting she is gay and readying to come out AND a high-class call girl. These snapshots may have turned readers off to the point where readers would not bother to read the book reviews.

So, OK. This made me very fearful for "Waiting," which I envisioned coming out in mid-October. If the "Strange Bedfellows" blurb turned off people, I was dang tootin' sure the "Waiting" blurb would, too. Here's the blurb:

Caris Ismay, 30, is falling in love with a woman she dares not pursue, and at exactly the wrong time. Caris knew that life after having her baby would be different, especially since her wife did not love her anymore. But Caris never expected post-baby life to be this difficult. Dale, her wife of three years, is in a coma that turns into a vegetative state. Lena, Dale's 29-year-old daughter, is put in the awkward position of revealing Dale's secrets to Caris.

Caris and Lena share a perfect, passionate kiss that they cannot stop thinking about. Plus, they can help each other in ways no one else can. They try to build a friendship, but their growing attraction gets in the way. Can Caris and Lena move past the taboo of their attraction and find their path together? 

I posted earlier versions on Facebook to get feedback. My immediate concerns were thus: how to get across that Caris, while, yes, she is Lena's stepmother, did not raise Lena, is about the same age as Lena, etc. to get rid of some/any "ick" factors people might have. Plus the fact that Caris is married -- how to get across in the blurb so it doesn't turn people off if they think she is cheating on her wife, and with her wife's daughter of all people?

The feedback I got from the people on Facebook helped me tweak the blurb to the italicized version above. I still thought it was likely to turn people off (some people said in the comments it bothered them). Nothing I could do, though. The story, and the plot, was what it was, and I was proud of "Waiting."

I was thoroughly prepared for sales at the same level as "Strange Bedfellows" or lower.

So, while I was getting "Waiting" ready for publication, I was working on the reissue of my first book, "The Odd Couple." It had been in print before but never ebook. I revised/improved it for a second edition (print and ebook) and released it about two weeks before "Waiting." Its sales were about the same as "Strange Bedfellows."

So, "Waiting" came out. It did decently the first couple of weeks. Better than "Strange Bedfellows," which I had expected in part because of the base I'd built with "Strange Bedfellows." (There was a three-year separation between the first issue of "The Odd Couple" and "Strange Bedfellows.)

Anyway, so, "Waiting" even got to #3 on Amazon lesfic before doing a swan dive out of the top 100 lesfic.

Then something happened. "Waiting" started to climb again. And again. And again. Until, bless my excited little heart, it hit the big number 1 in Amazon U.S. lesfic. Stayed there four days, and since then it has been a mainstay in the Amazon top 20 lesfic. The print edition even appeared in the top 100 lesfic, so I had "Waiting" there twice at the same time.

Meanwhile, sales of "Strange Bedfellows" and "The Odd Couple" had about doubled, but "Waiting" still outsold them combined. This is not to say "Strange Bedfellows" and "The Odd Couple" don't sell well. They are,  more often than not, in the Amazon top 100 lesfic. But the phenomenon that is "Waiting" -- wow. I do not know how or why it happened, but it did. At the same time, I was (and am) thrilled and frustrated. "Strange Bedfellows" is just as good, I think, and deserves equal sales. (I did not expect too much for "The Odd Couple" because it had been out three years already. In this respect, its ebook sales are pleasantly surprising me. It's reached a totally different audience, I suppose.)

"Strange Bedfellows" then won two incredible awards. ("Waiting" was published too late for me to enter it -- next year I'll enter it). Did "Strange Bedfellows" sales pick up? No, not really, but "Waiting" continued plugging on.

So, let me toss around some theories for the sales disparity.

1) It may be as simple as someone told me: some books (or things) take on a wonderful, strange life of their own due to many lucky factors coming together. You can never know why for sure.

2) Maybe "Strange Bedfellows" just needs more time. I'm an indie author, and one big joy in this is that the rights are mine as long as I live (and then some). Maybe a few years from now, "Strange Bedfellows" will (see #1 above) pick up and do lots of leapfrogs.

3) Could be as simple as the fact that the ex-gay group leader/call girl thing simply turns some people off. However, there remains the fact "Strange Bedfellows" IS a top-100 seller. So I think the focus here really is not on why "SB" doesn't sell better but on why the heck "Waiting" sells so damn well.

4) Taboo? Could it be that what I thought might turn off readers (a stepmother/stepdaughter relationship) actually enticed them? One reader told me that she picked up "Waiting" because she wanted to see how these two women fell in love despite the sad times they were going through. It may just be that what I feared would hurt "Waiting" -- its plot -- is responsible for its tremendous sales.

It will be interesting to see how sales for "All in the Family" do (release next week!). Two stepsisters fall in love. Not as so-called taboo as "Waiting" (the stepsisters meet when they are 16 and 17, and the book continues until they are 23 and 24), but still a relationship some people might call taboo. So, these sales figures will be interesting.

5) Covers. It may be that the "Waiting" cover evokes something in readers that the "Strange Bedfellows" cover does not.



Mary Anne said...

I bought Strange Bedfellows because it was listed as something I might like by Amazon. The posted review was intriguing and the price was right for an author that was unfamiliar to me. Because I liked the writing I bought your other books within a week. (I would have to say WAITING is my favorite.) Without that initial prompt by Amazon I would not have known of you at all. I don't know all the factors that Amazon uses when they make a recommendation but they are definitely a part of that Strange Creature that is Sales.

Q. Kelly said...

Yes, definitely. Amazon recommendations and other Amazon tools drive sales. Fact remains, though, "Waiting" outsells all my other stuff combined. Trying to analyze why probably will get me nowhere.

It's running about 50/50 on whether people prefer "Waiting" or "SB." Some people like that "SB" is longer.

Leigh Ann Britt said...

I think I agree with your list of reasons why sales are as they are for the two books (any and all of them are possible).

One additional thing I was thinking was that both books had well laid out and intriguing plots, but the complexity of the "Waiting" plot appealed to me.

I guess it's one other possible factor that might have drawn some people.

Q. Kelly said...

Yep, that while "SB" sells better than the average lesfic book, the "Waiting" blurb and plot are so unusual, they reallllllly drive sales.

I forgot about word of mouth. Could be that "Waiting" is so unusual people read it and then recommend it.

Leigh Ann Britt said...

Could be word of mouth. I'll personally be responsible for a little of that Thursday night. A certain someone's finding out all about Q. Kelly.

She'll love it!

Michael McClung said...

Hello, Q-

My two cents, purely on the cover art, is that 'Waiting' gives off a much more polished, professional & serious feel than the cover for 'Strange Bedfellows' (and yes, I do get that the cover actually makes sense, but it's that's first impressions for ya' :))

Q. Kelly said...

Hi Michael,

Thanks for your comment! :) You may be right. I tend to agree with you. What's weird (or maybe not) is that a professional cover designer did the "Strange Bedfellows" cover. The "Waiting" cover was basically a last-minute scramble done half by me and half by someone who had no design experience. I am SO happy with how it came out, though.

"Strange Bedfellows" is more of a romance than "Waiting" is, though, and has a more romance-type cover. That's why the "Waiting" cover is more serious.