This blog is devoted to remembrances and essays on general topics, including literature and writing. It has evolved over time, and some older posts on this site might reflect a different perspective and purpose.

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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

There Has to Be an Algorithm for That

            Once upon a time I thought I had Amazon figured out, but upon further review, it turned out I had simply gotten lucky a couple of times and jumped to a conclusion.
            It had to do with the question of free promotions for my first mystery novel, The McHenry Inheritance. The book was published in late July of 2012, and in the first six months, I ran free promotions on a variety of days, mostly weekdays, with not much success. I defined success then, as I do now, with 100 or more downloads on a free promotion day, the premise being that reaching that many potential new readers is worth whatever loss is taken in paid sales.
            Because it was my first book, strong free-promotion results were critical to getting it into the hands of an audience beyond my circle of friends. I felt there had to be a way of reckoning the best days for putting the book out there on the free list.

A Gambler’s Lucky Streak

            In late February of 2013, I put the book out on a Sunday and had a really good response — more than 200 downloads. Doubling up, I offered it again on a Sunday in early March and got a staggering 473 downloads, by far the best day ever. “Aha!” I said to myself. “Sunday’s the day.” I offered it another Sunday in March and again got more than 200 downloads.
            As matters turned out, I was like the guy at the roulette wheel who bets red three times in a row and wins each time — then thinks he’ll win on red every time and loses his shirt.
            When the next promotion period came up in April, I confidently put the book out again on a Sunday and received fewer than 100 downloads. I kept going with Sundays for another six months, and though I had a couple of days that barely topped 100, there was nothing remotely resembling the success I’d had in February and March. For want of a better explanation, I chalked up the slowdown in downloads to the book’s having been on the market for some time and having been repeatedly seen by people looking for freebies.

Let’s Try This Again

            On April 30 my second mystery, Wash Her Guilt Away, went up on Amazon, and I had five free promotional days to use before July 28. I offered it free the first Saturday in May, and it got more than 150 downloads. I figured I could crack 200 by offering it on a Sunday, and, bypassing Mother’s Day, put it up free on Sunday May 18.
            Fewer than 100 people downloaded it.
            Scratching my head, I came back three weeks later, on Sunday June 8, and this time moved just short of 200 copies. I concluded that Sunday in May was an aberration, so did another free promotion Sunday July 13. I barely topped 50 downloads, even though the book finished at #33 on the free crime fiction list that day.
            The take-home message from all this is that there is no message. I’m coming to believe that unless a book is by an established author or is highly searchable, books and readers on Amazon are like random molecules bouncing around in a large, enclosed space. When and where they collide is a matter of chance as much as anything else. And the success of a free book promotion on any given Sunday in March could depend on what the weather’s like in most of the country and what’s good on TV that day.