The Back Road to Success – defining a winning strategy

As many regular readers of this blog will know, my second novel – The Back Road – was launched just four weeks ago, and being my usual obsessive self I had a carefully considered (and very long) marketing strategy.

Based on my experience with Only the Innocent and its startling success, I had tried to analyse what made it shoot to the top of the charts and stay there for so long, and my plan was based on identifying those key points and making them work for me again.

My expectations were lower. There are not only more books out there now, but other authors are much more savvy about how to market them (I knew I shouldn’t have blogged about my methodology! 🙂 ). On top of that, until the day of launch there were still lots of 20p books in the charts, and my book stood no chance against them. Fortunately for me, the era of the 20p books ended (for now, at least) just as I was about to publish – but had left in its wake a plethora of books at 59p or 65p. The desperation to get into the charts and get noticed gave authors and publishers little choice and due to Amazon’s price matching policy and the will of other distributors to discount heavily, the days of cheap books are not quite over – and indeed, might never be.

So what did I expect?

  • reasonable sales at launch, due to my amazing readers who follow me on Twitter, Facebook and in a few forums (thank you!).
  • perhaps to start off in the charts at about 3000ish, and make a steady climb
  • to do loads of blog interviews, etc, and slowly build awareness – let’s face it, the majority of people who read Only the Innocent are probably not on Twitter, or not following me on Facebook – so it was going to take time.
  • maybe – if I was very lucky – to hit the top 100.
  • possibly to consider dropping the price to 99p – as I had done with Only the Innocent – to improve awareness and as a ‘sale’, but then put it back up to £1.99 – although none of this for at least a month

What has actually happened?

  • The Back Road entered the charts at around position 3000 on the day of launch (got that right, then!)
  • Within 24 hours it had risen to position 100 (Good heavens?!?!)
  • Shortly after it rose as high as position 24 (day 3, I think)
  • Wobbled around for a week or so between 24 and 40
  • Fell to around 90, but then next day was up to 50 (what was going ON??)
  • Fell to just on or below the 100 mark
  • Suddenly, out of nowhere, started to climb last Thursday, and got right up to number 2 in the Kindle chart (and still at £1.99) – and here’s the evidence to prove it!

Screen Shot 2013-04-12 at 20.28.19

I knew that it wasn’t going to stay there long, and you only have to look at the other titles in the top 20 to work out at least part of the reason why. With the exception of Gone Girl, which is an incredible success story, all bar one of the books are either Daily Deals on their way down (books whose prices dropped to 99p for a day, but are now back up to their £4+ normal price) or they’re less than £1. But The Back Road lasted a couple of days in the top three, and is still comfortably within the top ten (at time of writing!).

So what happened? Why were my strategy and expectations so flawed?

I underestimated the impact of readers of Only the Innocent finding and wanting to read The Back Road  (Thank you again!). That gave me my first boost. It was brilliant, but I knew it wouldn’t last without dropping the price. The fact is, my book is too new. Apart from people who had already read my first book, many of whom would still not be aware that I had published a second one, it all seemed too soon. There wasn’t any buzz about the book, so unless people recognised my name from last year – why would they buy it at £1.99 when there were plenty available at 99p?

The huge boost in sales last week came as a result of some heavy marketing – which is unsustainable over a longer period. At this point, people started to ask me about dropping my price to 99p – but strangely I’m still not ready to do this.

There is an inevitable comparison between The Back Road and The Magpies by Mark Edwards. Mark has been very successfully writing with Louise Voss for some time, and one of their books hit number one on Amazon some months before Only the Innocent achieved it. When Mark launched his solo book, The Magpies, it followed a very similar pattern to The Back Road, and as the two books were launched about a week apart, it was interesting to watch what happened. His book hung around for a couple of days and then shot up the chart – exactly the same way that The Back Road did. He also has some loyal followers. At this point, Mark took the decision to drop his price to 99p, and this seems to be a strategy that’s working well for him. He’s been in the top 10 for a few days now – and is slowly and steadily climbing.

So is his strategy right, and mine wrong? Mark and I are in very regular contact, and neither of us knows the answer to this question. We are extremely friendly rivals, and mutually supportive, so we’re happy to share our thoughts with each other.

At the moment, I am happy with my £1.99 price point. If I drop the price to 99p, I have to sell four times as many copies to make the same income (due to the way the Amazon royalty calculations work) – so from a financial perspective, it’s probably better staying where it is.

But then again, wouldn’t it be great to have two number one books in succession?

It is still my belief that there is insufficient buzz about the book – yet – to make any top ranking sustainable at anything other than a 99p or less price point. It hasn’t been out long enough. Check out Gillian Flynn’s amazingly successful Gone Girl, and you will see that although it was published almost a year ago, it’s only been in the Kindle top 100 for just over 100 days. I’m not comparing myself to Gillian Flynn, and wouldn’t aspire to the same level of buzz – but I’m simply using it as an illustration that it can take time to get noticed. Unless I am prepared to drop my price to 99p and keep it there, the time doesn’t seem right.

So my strategy remains unchanged, despite this rather surprising first month. I’m going to continue to try to build awareness, seek reviews and do interviews. I want everybody to know about The Back Road even if they haven’t bought it. At some point in the future, I may well drop the price in line with my original thinking, and then those people who have noticed but not bought might suddenly think again. But my plan (and my agent may have a different view) is to change the price only when the time is right for the book as opposed to striving to achieve the top spot (and number 2 isn’t too shabby really!).

V6 smallMore than anything, what I really need to know from all you good people is –

Do you think £1.99 is too much to pay for a book?

If you’re on Facebook, check out my poll.

The Back Road is available from – and you guessed it – it’s £1.99