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.