|A simple, low-cost cover image.|
In the past we might have been analyzing our failures and trying to figure out what to try next.
Now we’re analyzing a success. One of the first things we realized, was that you really can’t analyze a success until you’ve had one.
Here at Long Cool One Books we’re a bit mystified by the success of one of our titles, Silent Service by Zach Neal.
We’ve gotten a little too used to launching a book and absolutely nothing happens. It felt a lot like standing on the edge of some bottomless pit and throwing it decisively into some kind of insatiable black hole, from which it would never rise again.
So far Zach’s short story of 16,020 words has sold forty copies in the U.K. and twenty-five in the U.S. and it’s only the eleventh of the month. The rankings are different because of the total sales, and the number of titles in that category in a particular store. Last month the book sold about sixty-five copies in the two stores combined and we’ve already beaten that. While there is no way to predict how future sales will behave, we are on our way to selling two hundred copies of this title in the month of July.
What’s interesting is that this book uses a very simple cover designed by J. Thornton. J. does all of our covers. There’s nothing radical about this cover.
Our editor, an un-named person living at an undisclosed location, edited this book as well as all previous titles. While their skills might have improved incrementally since the last book, there really isn’t that much of a difference.
For Silent Service, the sales copy, the product description might be better (slightly) than the one that went just before; and arguably, a hundred times better than the first half dozen we wrote five years ago.
So, what’s different about this book? Why is this book going when previous ones didn’t?
The biggest factor, and the most obvious answer, is that it’s a narrow category. There aren’t that many titles to begin with. If you make a sale in a category with ten thousand titles, it gives you ‘x’ worth of boost in the rankings. The same sale in a category with a hundred thousand titles can never be any more than ten percent of ‘x’. It’s just that simple, and of course having made one sale your book will now be presented to more readers. It’s certainly possible that a better cover would result in a better conversion rate. We will never know because we don’t have access to that data. (It is a pretty good guess, though. - ed.)
The cover alone doesn’t tell the whole story, although a smaller category, arguably, might have lower store traffic. In the romance category, there are probably ten million titles on Amazon. The thing is that every romance reader in the world might go through there once in a while. It has a huge amount of traffic. The submarine/adventure category cannot possibly be getting anything like that kind of traffic. In both categories, the covers all look depressingly familiar, but there is only so much one can do with a low-cost book cover image.
Analyzing a customer.
Years ago, I had this buddy. His old man was in the R.A.F. in WW II. I don’t know how much was bullshit, but according to the son he flew with Douglas Bader, he was in the Battle of Britain, he flew with the Dambusters later on and ended up in Pensacola on some exchange program teaching student pilots.
I liked airplanes and raided his bookshelves more than once.
Another buddy’s dad was in light cruisers in the Atlantic in WW II, eventually going on to the light Jeep or escort carriers.
I borrowed a bunch of books from them over the years as well.
Here’s what’s different about that generation. I doubt if either man had ever gone into a bookstore and bought one of those books for themselves. Those guys get those books for Christmas, they get them for their birthday. If anything, they sign up for some introductory offer from a book club. They take the first half dozen free ones for a buck (or whatever), buy a few books and then eventually let the membership lapse. They really aren’t big book buyers. Only a small number qualify as armchair historians, although this is a recognized stereotype and much more likely to buy a certain kind of book.
Now, in the case of ebooks, this is probably a different kind of customer—for one thing, the submarine service is very small. This book is historical as well, it’s not about the big nukes and the big boats. Their kids, grandkids and great grandkids probably do buy the books as gifts, but this doesn’t seem so likely to be ebooks. A few of them probably read thrillers such as Red October and watch films like U-571. I strongly suspect that the new buyers, certainly buyers of Silent Service, are more likely readers who just like ships, the sea, and stories of adventure. It might even be a younger audience.
For an author like Zach, who has dabbled in westerns, he has written a thriller, and he seems to like writing historical fiction, writing military or naval adventure stories seems like a natural. Writing sea stories, perhaps for a younger audience, encompassing everything from Horatio Hornblower to Tom Clancy, offers a quite a bit of scope for the historical writer, and there's room for some romance in there as well.
|No big crossover.|
What’s interesting is that so far, there has been absolutely no crossover for Zach. No one who has bought Silent Service has come back and read The Desert Raider or any of the other titles. Sea stories (or more likely submarine stories) and their readers are a category unto themselves, or so it would seem.
When we were first starting off, we would have been happy to sell five or ten copies of each title per month. Once you have that pump primed, the theory is that all you have to do is to keep writing. I can honestly say that never happened or we might have been a little more cheerful over the intervening years…
Obviously, it’s not as simple as all that, but we’re learning and trying new things with every project.
Poor old Zach has a really good day job and of course now he doesn’t quite know what to think. As for our other pen-names, they’re all wondering what they have to do to get a little piece of the action.
All I can tell them is to come up with your best ideas and write ‘em up.
We’ll get them out there and let the market decide.
Failure Analysis. (HBS.)