The other day, I talked a bit about my experiences using KDP Select as both an author and a publisher. I noted that I didn’t think timing made much difference and noted some things that hadn’t caught on in the way others had, but I’ve noticed some things I think do, and have some theories about some other elements besides.
The first element that seems to effect success of a promotion–where “success” would be a decent amount of downloads, and where “decent” is a subjective number given that, who knows, maybe you’re after way more downloads than someone else?–is length or format. Whichever way you want to look at it. The simple fact seems to be that short stories perform better than poetry, and novellas and short collections perform better than short stories, and novels perform best of all.
This makes sense. Novels are, traditionally, the most popular fiction format. Magazines run short stories (and sometimes novellas), but trade, commercial fiction has generally always been novels. That’s what people find on the shelves in book stores.
The great thing about digital distribution is that it gives a greater diversity of formats an opportunity to catch on in the market in ways they haven’t had a chance to previously, but I think it’s going to take a while for them to catch on.
Honestly, one need look no further than Exciting Press’ Amazon page, with its diversity of titles across a variety of formats. That seems to be becoming more common, and I think the most successful writers will have precisely that sort of page, with short stories and essays and short collections alongside novels.
I think those novels will always tend to be the most successful, the titles from which most of writers’ incomes will come. But I think short stories and novellas will at least have a more prominent place than they have before, and may do well on their own.
This might actually be the most important element of all. Some genres seem more popular than others. This is huge because Amazon breaks up their bestseller lists by genre, so fantasy, for example, is on a different list from literary fiction.
And fantasy seems to be a more popular genre than literary fiction.
The most popular genres, so far, in my experience, seem to be fantasy, science fiction, and mystery. I get the feeling romance, suspense, and thrillers are also very popular. Poetry, it seems, is a less popular genre (and is grouped, for some inexplicable Amazonian reason, as a fiction genre).
This makes a lot of sense to me. Putting myself in the reader mindset: start fresh at the Amazon page. I want a Kindle book but I’m not sure what, yet, so I browse by genre, and the first choices I have are “$3.99 or less,” “Popular Features,” including Kindle Singles and Bestsellers, and after “Need help” (which I don’t, because I have a Kindle and have been using it for a while, and even if I didn’t and hadn’t been, Amazon’s made at least the shopping for it intuitive), “Categories.”
My inclination as a reader is to shop in that order. The first category, “Deals,” is usually sparse. 100 or so books at $3.99 and a Kindle Daily Deal. I knock those out fast.
I tend not to shop Kindle Singles, though I browse them occasionally. I like longer books.
Which brings me to bestsellers. And as soon as I hit bestsellers, I’ve got the top 100 list, and then I can browse the lists according to genres, and that’s where I’m going to choose fantasy, science fiction, and mystery. That’s where I’d go straight to romance were I interested in the romance genre (both my novels include romantic elements, but to try to say they are “romance” would mislead readers actively looking for books in the romance genre, and I don’t want to mislead readers), or thrillers, or suspense.
And my hypothesis is that more readers are interested in those sorts of genres than they are in, say, “literary fiction.” This has, for the most part, always been the case. And the difference between “literary” and other genres is a debate/discussion perhaps best held elsewhere, but suffice to say, at least going by Amazon’s bestseller lists, it seems that those genres are more popular with more readers.
The only evidence I have of this is simple: Nick Earls’ “Problems With a Girl & a Unicorn.” We want to make sure people are getting what they want, and Nick’s stories tend to be humorous, slice-of-life sorts of stories, so we tend to categorize them as “humor fiction” and “literary fiction.” There aren’t dead bodies in these stories. There are no space ships. There’s of course nothing wrong with stories that have dead bodies or space ships, and indeed Nick and I have often joked it might be more lucrative to write about dead bodies on space ships–or something like that–because readers gobble it up, but that’s not really been our process.
On the other hand, “Problems With a Girl & a Unicorn” is the sort of magical-realist story that on first reading reminded me of Jorge Luis Borges. It’s about roommates, one of whom happens to be a unicorn, and it’s got this amazing fantasy element, and it’s absolutely hysterical. The punchline . . . the first time I read it, I couldn’t believe I’d never thought of it before. And I’m not going to spoil it for you, because that’d be wrong, and besides that it’s only 99 cents.
But more important: we categorize it as “contemporary fantasy.” It’s about a unicorn as a roommate. Seems right to me. And during its free promotion, it managed more than twice the number of downloads as the other short stories we’ve done that fall under “literary fiction.”
Ditto my own “Blues’n How to Play’em,” which is a short story about Robert Johnson trying to play his beautiful dark music. Given the tone and the story, I think it’s safe to categorize it as “horror.” And when it’s free, it attracts at least twice the number of downloads as my other short story, “Struck By the Light of the Son” (which is on its way to a slight revision/update and a new title/cover).
As may be evident, I think the best way to learn and explore is to try myriad different things. Always whip-smart (and warning:profane) penmonkey advisor Chuck Wendig frequently notes that he wishes more writers would be less afraid to really try something new and unique, especially independent writers. At least, that’s what I take him to mean. And given that I never have to worry about making Rupert Murdoch an extra buck or worry that my poetry nano-collection might earn out an advance, I like to think that’s what I’m doing. I don’t think, for example, that you’ll find a choose-your-own-adventure noir like “Jamais Plus: Explorations of the Curious Case of the Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe” anywhere else. Incidentally, “Jamais Plus” did fairly well when it was free last week, I think partly because it’s categorized as “mystery fiction” (have you tried solving it yet?).
Importantly, besides free downloads, Exciting Press is selling more titles every month. Given that our operation is growing faster–in terms of both titles and authors–than we’d even anticipated to start with, that’s pretty great. Exciting, in fact.