Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Box Sets - Hitting the USA TODAY Bestseller List!

Is it better to say 'box set' or 'boxed set' ? because these are the things that keep me up at night while I worry about my boxy set that's for sale on Amazon.
Last week we hit 269 in Paid Amazon Books, which our group thought was GREAT and we're still at #1 for Mystery Anthologies even though we are pushing 2,000 ten days later in Amazon books.

Here's the story of a bunch of authors who came together to rival the big romance names for a few days.
Passion & Danger

Originally posted in May 2015

The only thing that the Tant Ten authors had in common back in March was me. I emailed a bunch of authors I like who might want to give me their first in a series book to practically give away to gain readers and possibly hit the USA Today List. All of the authors wrote suspenseful stories with romance. Some were straight Romantic Suspense, some were police procedural with elements of romance. Miraculously, nine of them did give me their books and I got busy making a box set with the theme Passion & Danger in common.
We're still waiting to see the USA TODAY Bestselling list this week but I'm not holding my breath. We didn't even come close to the success of a Contemporary Romance box set or the Erotic box sets that released the same week. (Only the Contemporary one listed, as it turned out.)

Here's a list of some things I believe I did wrong, followed by what I did right, keeping in mind that I'm not a well-known romance author, don't have a huge following in Romance, and am a confused publisher at best.

* I assembled writers who turn out quality work-- first requirement. Most of us are not necessarily the most prolific romance authors but writers with great storylines, characters and something to offer. I'm kidding about doing this wrong.
* I didn't know as much about publishing on sites other than Amazon as I should have
* My enthusiasm and confidence superseded my knowledge of this game
* I didn't ask each author for $100 for promo, I was just amazed that 9 authors said yes!
* I did not employ a promo company to do all the ads and marketing
* I should have set up more marketing during the 5 weeks of presales
* I used Smashwords for those sites that Draft 2 Digital didn't have (but I had to)
* I fumbled around on Google Play, trying to understand how to publish
* We went for 'James Bond' classy and used a 1/4 naked man on the cover, not 1/2 naked
* Major promo stopped after the first week of release
* I didn't play up the Sizzling, Sexy, Hotness angle -- that seems to sell books like crazy these days
* I assumed we'd hit the USA TODAY Bestseller List
* Not sure if this hurt us or not but we have books from Sweet to Sizzling, Humorous to Thriller
* I Should have approached other box set authors about Cross Promo earlier
* Many of us don't have newsletters or large email lists and that would have been helpful
* With more money, we could have gone to RT in Dallas to promote (The conference was on opening weekend for us--built in hundreds of sales!)
* We did not have a Facebook Release Party with prizes, and that might have been a mistake
* I should have included the cost of the cover in with the initial group funds, not taken it out of our first paycheck.
* I should have tried to publish to Smashwords Premium Catalogue 3 months before release to allow for all the problems and hold up.
* We should have published two weeks earlier and missed competing with 2 other blockbuster box sets.
*We offered books in the set that had been out for years, not new material
* We did not focus on Nook, Apple, Google, Kobo etc and might have lost sales there.
* We could have done blog tours to get the word out but didn't tap that as much as we could've

We might have used a photo like this instead, eliminating the woman, showing a full chest and suggesting more heat in the set.

What I believe we did right

* I chose authors who would really care if they hit the USA Today list, not those already on it. Hunger is a big motivator.
* We attached not one, but two worthy charities to the sale of books
* I got a USA TODAY Bestselling author Alexa Grace to do this with us
* I scored Toby Neal, not a romance author per say, with a huge following!
* I assembled a group of wonderful, diverse novels all with the common theme of Passion & Danger
* We used a wonderful cover artist The Killion Group to do the cover
* The cover turned out beautifully. Hairy vs Slick, Shiny Chest? Not sure
* With our limited budget of $300 we chose our ads carefully according to most bang for buck (list of sites next week's blog)
* We chose categories and key words strategically on publishing sites
* I got Amazon to price match because we had a large file with photos and wanted .99
* I used Draft 2 Digital for everything I could, not Smashwords
* On Author Central I played with description and Editorial Reviews sections to get larger print and I listed book descriptions here
* We printed postcards and chocolate coins to give out at RT (they arrived too late)
* We eventually set our sights on having fun with this, not worrying about listing
* We created a Google document for texts, FB posts, ad information etc
* We made a private FB page where we could talk, rather than emails
* We gave ourselves a cute name :)
* Everyone contributed in different ways-- some with marketing, some with editing, some with formatting, some with making ads, a book trailer, teasers!
* Everyone pitched in $43 for ads
* As the publisher/marketer I dropped everything for 2 weeks and sat at the computer obsessively watching sales and tweeting. I stopped writing and promo'ing my singles and sales suffered there but I believed in the long-term effects of this set for all of us.
* We eventually got a few reviews up there. Phew!
* I tried to model our page after one that was preselling like CRAZY! Even though it had all NY Times Bestselling Authors.
* After release, we contacted authors from the other box sets with crossover readership and tweeted for them.
* We launched on a Sunday, which I l believed was the USA Today List first day to count sales (it's a bit of a mystery)
* I made a trailer, which probably helped sales 

                                                               Passion & Danger

I'm still not sure why our readers bought the other box sets and very few of their readers bought ours. Maybe because we weren't represented at RT, maybe because we aren't NY Times Bestselling Authors, maybe we missed some list or something, but that still baffles me. The first week we did not get their readers, but they got ours. Hmmm???

We went in to Launch Day with 600 presales on Amazon to dump on the first day. After the first week, we'd hit #1 on Mystery Anthologies, which looks good to have that badge at the bottom, and had 2,000 sales from all sites. The set reached 269 on Amazon books and held below 500 for most of that first week. At 2,000 sales we fell short of our 7,000 sale goal to hit the USA Today list, but we felt like with all the box sets out there this week, that was pretty dang good. There were some VERY heavy hitters in our genre! And some single titles/ single authors in Anthologies which is unfair.

For a bunch of non New York Times bestselling authors offering books that had been around the block more than once, I realized that we did GREAT!
Put some PASSION&DANGER into ur Life! 10 books for #99cents Bestselling authors! #indieauthors RT pls

Using what I learned, I'm thinking of doing a box set of new novellas if someone doesn't ask me to be in their set before then.
Hey, if no one invites you to the party, have your own party, right?

Update: December 2015
We did not list, made some money and were able to donate over $1,000 to the Foundation for Thymic Cancer and the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. For us, that made everything worth it. I put in about 200 hours on this project and don't regret a minute of it.

No one asked me to join a box set, so I published another one late November. This time, I assembled Suspense Holiday-themed novellas, which isn't an easy thing to sell. Suspense doesn't thrive at Christmas BUT Criminal Christmas is doing really well in sales. We keep just inside the top 100 Holiday Kindle category and figure we're gaining new readers. As the publisher, I did not go full out for hitting a list. If I ever do a box set again (and I'm really too burned out to do that as the publisher!) I will definitely take a cut of the profits as the publisher or ask for scads of money up front. It's sooo time consuming.
Criminal Christmas is a set of 8 stories, 6 Novellas (4 BRAND NEW!) 1 Short Story, and 1 Full Novel. Only .99 and the set features Alexa Grace, Ann Charles, Misty Evans, Adrienne Giordano, Jacki Delecki, Lori Leger, Alicia Dean, Amara Draska and me, Kim Hornsby.
Criminal Christmas Available at Amazon Kindle

Kim Hornsby is the Bestselling Author of THE DREAM JUMPER'S PROMISE and NECESSARY DETOUR. Her books are mostly available at Amazon because she believes in shopping local.
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  1. A smallish campaign with a homemade list would not be likely to yield much of a result. To achieve anything worthwhile, a much more aggressive effort is needed. Then, the age-old value analysis applies: projected earnings = margin on total projected sales - cost of campaign.