Monday, June 24, 2013


The one year anniversary of publishing my debut novel, KILLER INSTINCTS, came and went earlier this month without me even realizing it. However, I wanted to take a moment and reflect on the last twelve months, and provide a few observations.
  • In 12 1/2 months I've sold a little over 600 copies - roughly an average of 2 a day. However, 60% of those sales occurred in the last three weeks of April, after BookGorilla caught on to my free Ebook promotion of the title and passed it along to their subscribers, resulting in almost 12,000 free copies going out the door in 3 days. In May sales dropped VERY quickly down to 50 copies sold that month, and I'm estimating about two dozen sales for June. In the months leading up to April, the best I've ever managed was 30 sales in one month, and that was right around the time I started with Amazon Select and doing free promotions. So, essentially the only way this title has been able to stay active has been through the use of promotion "bumps" in visibility, which have to be constantly repeated to get any continuous sales figures. Doing some vague napkin math, I've had to give away about two dozen copies of KI for every sale.
  • On the more positive side, the book has gotten some really solid reviews. The lone two-star Amazon review is so insubstantial as to really give no more than a "Meh...", and I'm fully aware that the book isn't going to appeal to everyone. Beyond that, even the 3-star reviews are generally positive and expressed enjoyment, with a few quibbles here or there. In general, people seem to like the writing, enjoy the action sequences, and dig the characters, even when the whole plot seems a little "unrealistic". I'll take that as a win overall. I've also had strong support for a sequel, something I hope to begin working on at the end of 2013.
  • I think there's an interesting balance between niche and visibility. KILLER INSTINCTS is clearly a "vigilante revenge" novel and falls into the "thriller" category, as well as "crime". When I do a search in All Departments for "vigilante revenge", KI shows up as the 19th result (which isn't actually that bad...). In contrast, when I do an All Departments search for "British Commandos", Operation Arrowhead shows up as #3. Although KI has a much broader marketing base as a crime thriller than COA has as a niche WW2 action novel, COA began to outsell KI by a very wide margin within a few weeks of its release, even in the US (where sales were about 1/3rd of my total sales, the majority being in the UK). It makes me suspect that it can actually help your sales to aim for a small niche market where the competition is scarce, rather than aiming to be a small fish in a very big pond. Operation Bedlam, a title that's been out less than 3 months, and has never had a single free promotion day, has twice the sales KI managed over 12 1/2 months...
  • It helps to have friends. When the novel came out, I'd already had a strong support base from people on Twitter and Facebook, as well as other bloggers and writers, both amateur and professional. Guys like James Reasoner, Brian Drake, Mark Allen, and Stan Mitchell - writers who have their own fan bases who both read their books and their blogs - helped spread the word and provide me with some great reviews. On the other hand, Operation Arrowhead was very quickly outselling KI without any of that exposure, so great reviews by guys who see substantial blog traffic don't always equate directly to sales figures, except perhaps as a temporary "bump".
  • Ultimately, I see KILLER INSTINCTS as a sort of art-house project of mine, something that gets critical acclaim, but without any real financial success. I think it is a "better" book than either of my Commando novels, but clearly it is not carrying a proportionate degree of financial success. If time "on the shelf", as well as the number and quality of reviews was a direct indicator of sales, KI should be blowing both my Commando novels out of the water, while the opposite is true - heck, my short story "The Train to Calais" vastly outsells KILLER INSTINCTS these days. If $0.99 titles had the same royalty percentages as $3.99 titles, I'd make more off that one short story than I do from KI in every month save April.
And so, that's where we are. I am certainly glad I wrote KILLER INSTINCTS - I felt it was a story I had to tell, and the characters and "world" it created not only influence the Commando novels, but will influence many other stories to come. However, its mediocre success compared to my other works did cool my enthusiasm for writing a sequel, which is why I have a number of projects I want to write first, before I return to work alongside William Lynch again.


Hank Brown said...

Thanks for sharing, Jack.I think you're on to something with that niche audience thang. The jury's still out (in my head, at least) about giving books away for free.

I've come to recognize a dynamic in the e-publishing world: When an author employs a "gimmick" or finds some sort of end-run around the traditional methods, or takes advantage of a new Amazon algorithm, they may achieve wild success and be catapulted to where they have a big audience... But by the time other authors learn about the "gimick" or whatever, EVERYBODY is trying it and it's no longer effective.

For instance, tagging on Amazon (looks like that doesn't even exist anymore, or the "like" button)was onceridden by a few authors to big sales. I've heard of a few authors (who were the first)who made their books free on Amazon and their huge sales boost carried over into regular sales once the promotion was over. But Amazon adjusted the algorithms so that giveaways no longer boosted rankings like they did at first and that trick lost its magic. Joining Facebook and Twitter was once touted as a terrific marketing tool, and maybe it was at first, but people on Facebook and Twitter are mostly too busy tweeting and commenting to actually step away from the keyboard and read a book.

Sorry for rambling.

Justin Aucoin said...

Interesting. Hopefully it just needs a little more time to gain traction.

Hopefully giving away free copies of Killer Instincts help boost Commando sales.

Jack Badelaire said...

Hank, I still believe the free promotions were/are a good thing, Rankings or no. I managed 22 new book reviews of KI in the last 2 months which I attribute almost entirely to the Big Promotion. As well, I'm sure it resulted in people who took a chance on a free book buying my other books. And, lastly, although free giveaways don't really affect your ranking, it vastly increases your exposure to other buyers by putting you on those "also bought" listings.

Anonymous said...

Killer Instincts is a great book, and I still believe it will eventually take off under its own weight.

However, you make a brilliant point about niche genres, and I'm glad you talked about it. I had never considered that, but will in future writing endeavors.

Chris said...

This is just great information, Jack. Well done.

Anonymous said...

I was thinking the same thing and experienced an almost identical trend and numbers that you did with The Gold of Katanga. I started strong but really burnt myself out and kind of left things alone. I just watched to see what my other endeavours did to affect sales. It kept it going by writing history pieces. Marketing is a 24/7 process of analyzing and charting your moves. The thhing is that even with a trad publication, the publisher expects you to do the same thing. six of one a dozen of another. Im 20 k into a sequel that I am going to try and improve on my overall crafting. It also sets up a novella like Highway to Hell which sold well too, all things considering and virtually no plugging. A successful guy at this told me the key is time and volume or backlist. Hook them with one and they will buy the rest. compound interest. Dan Tharp

Dixie Thompson said...

I read KI, got it free, then bought COA (even though some nice guy offered to give it to me)and was sufficiently impressed that I will buy any sequel you put out for KI...Hurry up!!

Charles Gramlich said...

I haven't come close to fifty sales a month on any of my titles. I should rerun a couple of my promotions, I guess.

Justin Aucoin said...

So something that popped in my mind today. Have you ever thought about trying a new/different cover? I wonder if that would help sales at all -- something that speaks more to the plot/character of the story than just the gun? I think the Commando covers are heads better than Killer Instincts in terms of capturing and holding someone's attention.

No idea. Just throwing that out there as I was trying to think of ways that might help boost sales.

Brian Drake said...

Perhaps a new cover would be nice, as Justin suggested. However, the cover as-is would certainly be at home in any bookstore but perhaps I don't understand how important ebook covers are.

A year is nothing. One of my books did no business at all the first year. The second year, it's all anybody bought and they ignored my newer material.

I've stopped trying to figure it all out. The only solution is to keep writing and releasing new work.

Sean McLachlan said...

Killer Instincts is selling better than most indie books, so don't sweat it. It's certainly outselling A Fine Likeness!
But I think you're right that the Commando series has a broader appeal. I was never much into the revenge action genre myself. I prefer my gunfights on the battlefield or in some post-apocalyptic hellhole.
Keep on writing!