Giving away a Concubine 38,892 times in 16 days—Was it worth it?

UPDATE on July 25, 2015

It’s been more than a month since the BookBub ad ran on June 11th when “My Splendid Concubine” had only 117 reader reviews. This morning there were 204 reader reviews on Amazon.com, and all but one of them was a verified purchase. Most of the new reviews have been 5-stars. The 1-star that was not a verified purchase alleged the book was kiddie porn after most of the review praised the writing and the story. Regardless of the alleged opinion of that one review that was not a verified purchase, the book is not kiddie porn. The reviewer based her claim on the fact that in 1855, Robert Hart, who was still 19 had sex with a concubine who was age 14—in a country with no laws that restricted sex with an adolescent female who had reached puberty under the age of 18. In fact, in the 19th century women in China (and even in the United States) of almost any age were considered the property of men to be bought and sold.That practice didn’t end until 1949 in China, but by then Robert Hart would have been dead for almost fifty years.

Do we condemn a man and the book that is based on his life in the mid 19th century for doing something every man could do legally based on today’s laws in the United States?

Paid purchases are up slightly compared to where they are on those months when I am not promoting the book running ads. Before the ad ran and the giveaway ended, the book was getting about one or two reviews a month. In July there have been days when eight reviews appeared in one day. Paid sales are not dramatic but they have increased and sales are up from almost nothing for my other three titles.

— Original Post —

This is about the almost 8-year long journey before I offered my Concubine FREE for 16 days in the United States, Canada, Australia, India and the United Kingdom (free copies were downloaded in all five countries) between May 29 – June 13, 2015, and it wasn’t an easy decision to make—to give away a novel that took more than a decade to research (with an emphasis on research), write, revise, edit, revise and edit again several times. A lot of time and work went into writing Robert Hart’s story set in 19th century China.

To be clear, My Splendid Concubine is not a woman, and this post is about what happened when the novel was offered for free for the first time in tandem with a BookBub advertisement. Concubine is a historical fiction novel based on the real life of an Irishman who went to China in 1854 when he was age 19.

I started writing this novel in 1999 when I was dating Anchee. We dated for several months and were married December 1999. When we were dating, before we got married, she was working on her fifth novel, “Empress Orchid”, and she mentioned an Irishman named Robert Hart, who had worked for the Qing Dynasty until 1908—for about 50 years.

The first edition of “My Splendid Concubine” (December 2007) was followed by the sequel, “Our Hart”, in 2010.  Then in April 2013, I combined the prequel and sequel in the 3rd edition of “My Splendid Concubine” and stopped publishing the first two. By then, all of the editions had sold a combined 12,000 copies.

  • 221 in 2008
  • 341 in 2009
  • 2,375 in 2010
  • 4,641 in 2011
  • 4,158 in 2012
  • 5,044 in 2013
  • 4,192 in 2014, and about 300 copies sold over the first five months of 2015

In early 2013, sales started to slip after the 3rd edition came out, so I submitted My Splendid Concubine to BookBub, and the historical fiction novel was accepted for a $0.99 sale that ran on June 16, 2013. By the time that first ever $0.99 sale came to an end, about 2,900 copies had been sold—at the time that represented 22% of total sales since the 1st edition had been published in 12-2007.

Concubine was submitted to Book Bub again in 2014 and was accepted for another $0.99 sale in June of that year. This time, Concubine sold more than 3,000 copies at the reduced price, and the novel picked up a review from:

#1 - Joanna Daneman review posted June 19 2014

In 2015, I submitted Concubine to BookBub for another $0.99 sale, and they rejected it. I submitted another one of my books for a $0.99 sale, and they rejected that one too.

In April, I ran the $0.99 sale for Concubine anyway and advertised through several sites instead of BookBub: The Fussy Librarian, The Choosy Bookworm, and eReaderNewsToday — 177 copies sold, and that represented about 46% of the total sales of all four of my titles for the first five months of 2015.

Then I resubmitted Concubine a 2nd time to BookBub in early May, but set the offer for FREE, and BookBub said yes and scheduled the date for their ad to run on June 11.

This was the first time I’d offer one of my books FREE, and it isn’t as if I didn’t know that this was a viable method to market books and reach more readers.  I’ve read about the success other authors have had offering at least one of their titles for free, and I understand that it works best for the first book in a series, but I didn’t have a series (I #AmWriting a five-book series now, and I plan to publish the first one in about a year and maybe sooner).

The idea behind offering a book for free is to generate word-of-mouth for an author’s work, but, as long as my work was selling several thousand copies annually, I was reluctant to make that decision—until the sales fell off a cliff from a four-year (2011-2014) monthly average of 385 copies a month to an average of 81 a month for the first half of 2015.

When I heard back from BookBub that Concubine had been accepted for a free ad, I let a group of authors that I belong to at Historical Fiction eBooks know—we share information and support each other—and I was advised to start lowering the price immediately, because Amazon doesn’t make it easy to set a price to FREE. I was told that Concubine would have to appear FREE on Barnes & Noble and iTunes before Amazon would match the price.

I logged on to my Draft2Digital account and submitted the price changes the same day, and Draft2Digital submitted the changes to: B&N, iTunes, Kobo, Scribd, and inktera, and it took about three days for all the prices to change.  That was when I logged in to my Amazon kdp account, scrolled down to Contact and left a request for a price match with links to B&N and iTunes.

Once Amazon dropped the price to free on 5-30, I attached the following image to a Tweet and penned it to the top of my Twitter page. During the next 16 days, I swapped that Tweet out and penned a fresh one several times a day for my more than 12k Twitter followers to Retweet. I have no idea how many times that Tweet appeared on Twitter, but I think it was probably hundreds and maybe even thousands of times.

FREE FOR A LIMITED TIME

I also paid eBookBooster $35 to submit Concubine to 45+ sites that advertised free books for free. I only know of five that announced the free offer: FreeBooksAndMore.com on June 5; bestebooksfree.com on June 7; Top 100 Best Free Kindle Books on June 9; Booklover’s Heaven on June 10; and eBookDaily on June 12.

On May 30, the first day after Concubine was listed free on Amazon and the other virtual retail book stores, 1,038 copies were downloaded. Another 1,151 were downloaded on May 31 followed by 291 on June 1st. Then the number of downloads started to drop—77 on June 3 – fifty-nine on June 4 – forty-three on June 5 – thirty-four on June 6 – thirty-two on June 7 – twenty-six on June 8 – Forty-Five on June 9 ( the day Top 100 Best Free Kindle Books ran its free ad), and nineteen on June 10.

Amazon Sales Chart on June 11

Then on June 11th, the BookBub ad appeared early in the morning, and 21,791 copies were downloaded for free on Amazon that day. On June 12, another 3,813 were downloaded followed by 1,412 on June 13.  An additional 7,573 copies were downloaded through Draft2Digital, but there may be more to come (D2D has to wait on the retailers to report sales. For instance, 4,730 free downloads were not reported until June 18 and those were only from iTunes and Barnes & Noble so there may be more to come when the remaining retailers report in.).

Draft2Digital Sales Chart

By the time I submitted the price change for “My Splendid Concubine” from FREE back to $3.99 early in the morning on June 14, 33,703 copies had been downloaded for free for a book that in almost 8 years had only sold 20,895 copies. Concubine also made it to #5 free in the Kindle store for the Top 100 List.

Number 5 in Top 100

Since June 11—the day the BookBub ad ran early in the morning—to June 18th, Concubine picked up 8 new Amazon reviews marked as a Verified Purchase: seven 5-stars and one 4-star. Before the sale, Concubine was picking up about 1 or 2 reviews a month.

What about sales after the price returned to $3.99? Concubine has sold 22 copies, Crazy is Normal sold one, Running with the Enemy sold four, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova sold two. In May, all four books only sold 30 copies, but so far for June, forty-four have been sold with twelve days left before the end of the month.

Do you think giving away almost 40,000 FREE copies and paying more than $300 for the BookBub ad was worth it?

_______________________

Lloyd Lofthouse is a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran,
who taught in the public schools for thirty years (1975 – 2005).

Promoting the Same Book for Seven Years—info for authors

First—a brief history of my first novel (I’ve published four so far and have started a fifth that I plan to turn into a series).

I started researching and writing “My Splendid Concubine” in 1999 (total copies sold to date are almost 21,000).  During that time, we visited China nine or ten times and traveled extensively throughout that country doing research. Concubine, after a stack of printed revisions almost as tall as I am—I was six-foot-four but as we age, we shrink—the novel’s 1st edition came out in December 2007, and it sold 562 copies in its first two years. In 2010, the novel went through more editing and revisions, and then the 2nd edition came out with a new cover. Between 2010 and 2013, the 2nd edition sold more than 11-thousand copies. The 3rd edition, after more editing, revisions and another new cover, came out in 2013 and has sold more than 9-thousand additional copies and is still selling.

During those seven years, Concubine was promoted in several local brick-and-mortar book store author events, through thirty-one traditional talk radio shows where I was a guest expert on China, and three book blog tours in addition to two BookBub ad campaigns: one in 2013 and another in 2014.

What follows is a brief report of the most recent $0.99 promotion of My Splendid Concubine from April 13 – April 19, 2015.  When that promotion ended, I submitted a price increase from $0.99 back to $3.99, but as I’m writing this post, I see that Amazon has kept the price at $0.99—and it has now been more than five days since the official promotion ended.

Starting Sunday, 4/12, I pinned—after I made sure that price had been dropped by Amazon and Draft2Digital—a Tweet promoting the sale to the top of my Twitter page and tweeted fresh tweets to support the sale several times a day in addition to the pinned tweet that was always there.

To discover how to pin a Tweet to the top of your Twitter page so that it’s what everyone sees first when they visit, I’ve included this video from YouTube that explains how to do it.

When I checked my Twitter Analytics page (I’m not sure you can open this link), it turns out that the Tweet that promoted the sale (the pinned tweet) was the Top Tweet for the last 20 days with 4,178 impressions (number of times users saw the Tweet on Twitter—I have no idea how they measure that). Using Twitter analytic, I learned that the same pinned Tweet was Retweeted 54x, the image was clicked on 7x and the link that led to Amazon was clicked 5x, and that was just the pinned Tweet.

I have no idea how many times all of the other promotional tweets were seen. For instance, I found one of the same Tweets that was not the pinned version, and it was viewed 904x and engaged 23x. Engaged means the number of times a user has interacted with a Tweet, and I probably posted the same Tweet three to five times a day during the sale.

But what about the four ads I ran with The Fussy Librarian, Choosy BookwormeReaderNewsToday and Riffle?

The price drop to $0.99 was submitted on 4/11. Note: Seven copies sold for the full price at $3.99 between 4/1 through 4/4.  No copies sold between 7/5 – 7/10.

Sales by Date During the Promotion

  • 4/11 – 2
  • 4/12 – 20
  • 4/13 – 29 (two ads ran: The Fussy Librarian and The Choosy Bookworm)
  • 4/14 – 50 (one ad ran: eReaderNews Today)
  • 4/15 – 14
  • 4/16 – 13 (I think the ad from Riffle ran—a site with a high Alexa rank in Canada—but there were no sales from Canada during the promotion, and I’m not sure if the ad ran the day it was scheduled, because I never saw it even though I searched.)
  • 4/17 – 3
  • 4/18 – 3
  • 4/19 – 3
  • 4/20 – 1 (I submitted the price change from $0.99 to $3.99 at 7:30 AM)

During the same time span as the Concubine promotion, my other three books sold 12 copies at the full price of $3.99.

The result: More than 160 copies have sold so far in April for all four of my books—but most of the sales were for “My Splendid Concubine”. The total number of sales for January, February and March were 148 or an average of 49 copies a month. I think that an increase of sales of more than 326% for April was a success.

 
I think exposure is more important than profit. If the work is worth reading, the exposure might lead to those profits in the future.

For instance, Amanda Hocking didn’t earn much money or sell many books for her first eight years as an indie author, and then her sales went viral making her an internationally known author and a millionaire.  For those eight years, Hocking worked part time jobs for poverty wages, and lived at home with her mother who nagged her relentlessly to get a real job that would support her. Hocking said she worked really hard developing her social media platform. I wonder if her mother is nagging her today.

In May and June, my 4th book, The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova, will be going on a book Blog Tour with a $0.99 price drop from $3.99 in addition to plans to run ads on several sites, for instance, BookBub (if the ad request is accepted), Fussy Librarian, and eReaderNewsToday.

_______________________

Lloyd Lofthouse is a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran,
who taught in the public schools for thirty years (1975 – 2005).

 Covers for first 3 novels

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Authors Finding Readers – Part 4/4

How does an author build an Internet platform to attract readers to his or her work?

Here’s how I did it and it seems to have worked for my first three novels:

I launched iLookChina.net (my first proper Blog after taking three workshops on the subject), the platform for my first-three historical-fiction novels set in 19th century China. Instead of writing about the writing process and my angst as a writer, as I have discovered many authors do with his or her Blog/s, I focused on topics about China and the Chinese.

Does that make sense?

Here are the results:

I launched iLook China.net near the end of January 2010. Since launching the Blog, I have posted more than 1,500 articles about China and the Chinese.

However, my first novel, My Splendid Concubine was released December 2007.

Sales in 2008 = 221 copies.

Sales in 2009 = 341 copies.

After I launched a Blog to support the novels, sales for 2010 = 2,375 copies (a 696% increase in sales over 2009 when I did not have a proper platform Blog).

Sales in 2011 = 4,641 copies.

So far, sales in 2012 have reached more than 2,700.

As of 6:10 PST on August 19, 2012, iLookChina.net had 285,272 all-time views that I’m sure have contributed to almost 10,000 book sales.

What do these numbers say? Answer: It is crucial for an author to identify the interests of his or her potential readers before building and branding a proper Internet platform.

For example, if an author publishes a cookbook, he or she should consider a Blog about food.

There is more to building an author Internet Platform than just launching a Blog. For example, in 2008, I was a guest on 31 radio talk shows (only one was a Blog radio station) and I have linked from my Website to a few of the reviews that were converted to podcasts.

Recently, actually this morning (as I worked on this series of posts), I read a piece by David Vinjamuri for Forbes.com called Publishing Is Broken, We’re Drowning in Indie Books – And That’s a Good Thing.  It’s a long piece but worth reading for anyone that wants to learn about the current state of publishing. Near the end of Vinjamuri’s six-page on-line article, he says that Indie books must get reviewed, and from the start back in 2008, getting reviews was one of my goals.

I do not pay for reviews, but I have been on three Internet book tours of my work and I paid publicists to organize these Blog tours, which generated maybe 50 – 60 reviews. Most were positive. A few were not. I also submitted my work to literary contests and lost more than I earned some recognition in.

The most valuable reviews came from Writer’s Digest judges (my work has had two); The Midwest Book Review (three); City Weekend Magazine in China; and Historical Novels Review Online—all reputable, established media sources linked to traditional publishing, and this is the quality of reviews/recognition for Indie work that Vinjamuri says Indie authors need to prove credibility equal to that of traditionally published authors.

In addition, I belong to Authors Den, write reviews for Amazon Vine, LL Book Review, leave comments on other Blogs for posts that interest me (the posts I leave comments on have to really interest me—if they do not, I don’t leave a comment).

I belong to other on-line social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, Historical Fiction eBooks, and the Independent Authors Guild to name a few where I spend time commenting in chats, etc.

One fact for sure: there is NO guarantee that anything an author does will attract a sizable reading audience.  In fact, there is no guarantee that the Blog/Internet platform I’m building for my next novel, Running with the Enemy, will succeed in finding readers interested in that story.

Unless an author belongs to the rarified A-list of the most successful authors that have sold hundreds of thousands or millions of books, each book an author publishes is another venture into the unknown. For example, one of the most successful Indie authors is Amanda Hocking, and it took her about nine years of hard work building her platform before she graduated to the A-list that most authors will never join.

In conclusion, I want to share a few more depressing thoughts—According to Mental Floss, Where Knowledge Junkies Get Their Fix, in the United States:

1. One-third of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives.

2. Forty-Two percent of college graduates never read another book after college.

3. Eighty percent of U.S. families did not buy or read a book last year.

4. Seventy percent of U.S., adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years.

5. Fifty-seven percent of new books are not read to completion.

Then, according to a 98-page, 2007-study by the National Endowment for the Arts, reading is declining as an activity among teenagers.

1. Less than one-third of 13-year-olds are daily readers.

2. The percentage of 17-year-olds who read nothing at all for pleasure has doubled over a 20-year period.

3. For age 9, fifty-four percent read for fun almost every day; for age 13, thirty percent read for fun almost every day but by age 17, only 22% do.

4. The percentage of college graduate that read literature was 82% in 1982 down to 67% by 2002, and 65% of college freshman read for pleasure for less than an hour per week or not at all.

5. Literary readers are more than twice (43%) as likely as non-readers (16%) to do volunteer or do charity work.

6. Deficient readers are far more likely than skilled readers to be high school dropouts. Half of American’s Below-Basic readers failed to complete high school—a percentage gain of 5 points since 1992.

Now, do you understand why writers and authors have to promote to find his or her readers?

Return to Authors Finding Readers – Part 3 or start with Part 1

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_______________________

Lloyd Lofthouse is a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran,
who taught in the public schools for thirty years (1975 – 2005).

His third book is Crazy is Normal, a classroom exposé, a memoir. “Lofthouse presents us with grungy classrooms, kids who don’t want to be in school, and the consequences of growing up in a hardscrabble world. While some parents support his efforts, many sabotage them—and isolated administrators make the work of Lofthouse and his peers even more difficult.” – Bruce Reeves

lloydlofthouse_crazyisnormal_web2_5

Lofthouse’s first novel was the award winning historical fiction My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. His second novel was the award winning thriller Running with the Enemy. His short story A Night at the “Well of Purity” was named a finalist of the 2007 Chicago Literary Awards. His wife is Anchee Min, the international, best-selling, award winning author of Red Azalea, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year (1992).

To follow this Blog via E-mail see upper left-hand column and click on “FOLLOW!”