How our Free eBook promo resulted in nearly 4,000 downloads

On January 9th and 10th, we ran a free promo for my novel NRI: Now, Returned To India, which resulted in nearly 4,000 downloads. This was more nearly four times the number of downloads that we had imagined. Others might have achieved greater numbers, but it was a very interesting experience for both me and my wife (who owns Shree Gajanan Consultants,  the firm who is the publisher on record for my book and  is also the book marketer).

Our objective was to increase visibility of my book (first in four part series), and try and get some reviews in the process. We were looking at about 1,000 downloads and probably 40 to 50 odd reviews. (As we learnt later, this is a very very ambitious number for getting reviews! Steve Scott mentioned in his podcast that the ratio could be as low as 1 review per 1,000 downloads. Ten days after the campaign, we are yet to see a single new review for my book, so probably he was right!)

The timing of our book promo campaign was specific: Government of India was celebrating Jan 7th-9th as Pravasi Bhartiya Diwas or NRI day, and January 9th 2015 marked the 100 year anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s return to India. (Now you can see the why we chose this period for the campaign- not just the title but the theme of the book is relevant).

Free kindle book downloads
Screenshot of downloads during free book promo

Here’s how we went about it:

We used a combination of : (a) Twitter posts (around 4 to 5) (b) Google adwords, and (c) targeted posts to about three or four forums, including the Return to India forum).

Three days before the promo, my wife set up a Google adwords  ad campaign for my novel. In addition, we targeted the facebook groups for NRIs (Non Resident Indians, or Indian diaspora living particularly in North America). We had been turned down by Bookbub, so we were looking for other approaches.

At the end of the two day campaign on January10th, the following were the results:

Number of Downloads: 3,985
Book Ranking: #1 in its category for Kindle (up from 40 or so, now it is back to the 20’s)
Ranking for free eBooks: It peaked at #56 for overall Kindle downloads, then slid down to the 80’s and eventually off the top 100 list towards the end of the campaign.)
Reviews: Too early to expect/ speak about.

In addition, I gained about 10 new subscribers for my newsletter on my author website (www.amarvyas.in) and three new twitter followers.

Call it beginner’s luck, or an early elation, time will tell whether this worked or not over the long run. In the meantime, we are happy with the results. I am not sure how different the results would have been had we tried Bookbub or Buckbooks – for our next campaign, we might try a similar service, greater number of ‘pre-campaign’ outreach efforts, and probably reach out to more number of focus groups.

Hope that is helpful to those of you who are planning to run targeted campaigns, and best wishes!

Note: I had originally posted the below message originally in Pat Flynn’s Facebook group for authors, now re-posting it here with some edits.

added later: Shree Gajanan Consultants site is not accesible right now, we will fix that shortly.

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All you wanted to know about Now, Returned to India

With one more week before the release of the print version of Now, Returned to India, I thought of writing this post to gather my thoughts about my whole writing experience. But first, let us begin what what the book is all about. 

Moving back to India was the last thing on Amol Dixit’s mind when he was leading a carefree life in Chicago. Then one day, he found himself sleeping on the streets of Mumbai.

Now, Returned to India is a Back-to-Rags story of a Non Resident Indian (NRI), and is a humorous account of the experiences of Amol Dixit, who relocates to India in haste. It all begins when he interviews for a job that he doesn’t really need, and then plans to spend a year with his family in India before heading back to North America. In a series of missteps which affect his social and work life, and cost him the woman of his life, Amol learns the hard way that living in India is no cakewalk. Inspite of these challenges, he decides to stay back in India. And just when his life has hit rock bottom, GB enters his life.

Now, Returned to India was shortlisted by DNA- Hachette in India for their “Hunt for the Next Bestseller” competition in 2014. This is the first book in the four part series by author Amar Vyas, and is inspired from Amar’s own blog which received over 100,000 views on the Return to India Forum (www.r2iclub.com).

Why did I write this book?
My book is based on a blog which use to maintain at the Return to India (www.r2iclubforms.com) site. My posts received over 100,000 views. Many members on this forum read my diary and encouraged me to write a book based on my story. And one fine day, my wife asked me to do the same. Between November 2011 and March 2014, I wrote, re-wrote and fine tuned the draft, and finally the book is ready for release.
In the process, I realized that I had many more stories to share, and plan to write a few other books that deal with the life of the protagonist Amol Dixit, a fictional character whose life is loosely based on incidents in my own life.

Why should you read this book?
Now, Returned to India is a story of how Amol fails and how he ultimately overcomes his failures and realises what being an NRI means. Most important message from the story is, as they say, “Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail.”
Amol was a failure for the first year and a half of his R2I (return to India) because he did not plan the move well.
I am not the first author to write a book on the dilemma, issues and experiences related to R2I journey. My novel may not be able to answer several of the questions faced by those who are considering, are in the process of, or have R2I’d. I have used humor to narrate the story, and hope that you will be able to relate to it.
My novel has been reviewed by nearly 40 beta readers and the feedback so far has been very positive.

Where can you find more information about my Now, Returned to India?
You can reach out to me at:
Web:www.amarvyas.in

Three Years Ago…

Three years ago this day, I finally gave in to the encouragement that my wife had been providing (which I sometimes equated to nagging) and I decided that I was going to write a book. The topic was in a way set – I was going to use my life’s story as the theme: a young man from India, who has been living in the United States for nearly a decade, returns to India for one year and never goes back. I had narrated some of my experiences in my diary on the Return to India Forum. The title was also ready: I was going to call my book Now, Returned to India (a play on words on NRI- Nonresident Indians or the Indian Diaspora).

Even before I had written the first word, I promptly wrote in my email signature “Author of the soon to be published book: Now, Returned to India.” When friends and family learnt about my bookwriting (ad)venture, they were curious, excited, and supportive at the same time.

I learnt the hard way that ‘soon to be published’ can very quickly become ‘to be published after three years’. But it has been a long, exciting journey, and it has been a journey in which I learnt a lot.

The first print run of Now, Returned to India should be ready by the time this blog goes live. Hopefully in ten days’ time, readers in India will be able to order the print version of my book through Amazon.

This will conclude one chapter in my journey as a first time author. The new chapter would soon begin, and I will ponder till then: As a published author, what next?

No, I am not drawing the curtains on this blog. In fact, I plan to keep writing, because my journey as an author has just begun. Just wanted to share my feelings with the readers of this blog, many have been with me in my journey since the beginning. I wanted to thank them for their support and encouragement…

Updates: Print Book, Nanowrimo and Sequel

As we approach the middle of November, it is getting a little challenging to hit my goal for nanowrimo: I am writing the sequel to NRI: Now, Returned to India. Which also means that I have had to cut down on other writing, and somehow, I was unable to post on this blog fell into that bucket. I have learnt that bureaucrats refer to such errors as “administrative lapse.”

Lapses, or oversight aside, it is time for me to voice my concerns, share my updates and learn from the readers’ experiences, and the best way to do all of that is to write this post. So here goes…

First and foremost, I am very excited to announce that the print version of NRI:Now, Returned to India is available on Amazon. After several weeks of redrafts, edits and adding new content, one fine day, I was finally able to get the book released. In a subsequent post, I will write about my experience with both Kindle Direct Publishing and Createsapce. My wife (who is managing the marketing and the release of the book in India) has finalized a printer and we are in the last steps of finalizing the distribution of the book. More on that in a subsequent post.

Three things really delayed the publishing of the print version of the book, and that hurt us quite a bit. First of all, I was not happy with the editing. I hired an editor who charged top dollar, but the output was far from satisfactory. And that meant re-visiting the whole process: look for an editor, finalize them, send the manuscript, rounds of review, etc.). Secondly, we moved to Bengaluru, something that I have mentioned in the past. A career move at the most unexpected time really threw our publishing plans out of gear. And last but not the least, we are yet to get an ISBN from the National Agency for ISBN in India – even after applying four times over the past six months. In subsequent posts, I will write about copyright and ISBN so that others may benefit from my experience, rather, avoid the kind of mistakes that I have made.

As the year draws to a close, I would like to throw a few ideas on which I plan to write my subsequent posts in this blog.

a. Copyright process in India

b. Getting the ISBN in India (there is quite a bit of information available on this on the Internet, I would specifically like to share my experience)

c. KDP and Createspace- experience of a self published author from India (and tax implications!)

d. Printing, Pricing, Distribution of books – the DIY way.

e. Time travel- my path to becoming a self published author.

f. Guest posts. I think a new ‘voice’ will add both some spice and bring some fresh air to my blog. Volunteers are welcome!

g. And finally, a quick update on the MRP per page index for the last six months of the year.

I hope that the above schedule will keep you interested in my blog, and more importantly, you will find the future posts relevant and informative. In the meantime, Happy Reading, and for those of us who are aiming to hit the 50,000 word target this month, Happy Writing!

Four Weeks Off Schedule for Print Book Release

A man takes up a new job. A month later he moves from Gurgaon to Bangalore. Wife, a four month old puppy, and a truck with worldly possessions follows. The very next week, our man is back in Gurgaon, and will be stationed there for the next two months. Wife is fuming, because she is left to fend for herself and the puppy, who she didn’t want in the first case. The household goods arrive, the car goes missing in transit. Such is life.

This could very well be the theme of my new book, because it sounds like Amol Dixit’s story all over again. Unfortunately, this is the reality that I am faced with. Not surprisingly, my present situation has thrown the launch schedule for the print version of Now, Returned to India completely out of gear. I am officially four weeks behind schedule.

But now, things are looking positive. With a four day holiday coming up next week, the final edits and a proof copy of the book should be sent back to the printer. By early next month, Now, Returned to India should hit the online bookstores.

As any project manager will tell you, it is important to build buffers in the schedule, and prepare for contingencies. I did neither. And several willing, paying customers had to wait. For that, I apologize.

Week of anxiety before book release

With only three days to go for the release of Now, Returned to India, I am faced with, as expected, last minute glitches. 

Website is still not up and running (hopefully that will be corrected in a day’s time), ebook is still being worked on, and we had to drop the plan of releasing print version (Createspace) and ebooks (Kindle) on the same day. The good part is, that the experience has been fantastic. 

I will post the details of the release in a day or two, till then, it is time to take a deep breath. 

On Hindi language books

This morning I was traveling by train between Pune and Mumbai, when I saw a bookstore at a railway platform. As usual, I decided to check out what was selling. It was a real eye opener. The number of Hindi language books that were stacked in the bookshop far exceeded the number of English language books.This was a stark contrast from the bookstores one finds in Malls, airports  and office buildings, which are dominated by books in English. Hindi and regional language books almost get a stepmotherly treatment.

The shopkeeper, Dinesh, was more than happy to let me take a few photographs, which I am posting below. In Hindi, there is a phrase “Jo dikhta hai, woh bikta hai.” In simple words, it means that visibility matters for sales. So if one is seeing more Hindi books than English ones, then that could confirm that in terms of sales volume, Hindi language books in India represent a much bigger  market. Just how big? I will try and assess the same in the coming weeks. And look at translating Now, Returned to India in Hindi.

Hindi books
Hindi language books
bookshop at Pune
Bookseller Dinesh at Pune Railway Station

What the bestseller lists at India’s online bookstores tell us

In April this year, I wrote two blog posts (part I of the post here and part II here) that discussed what could be the MRP (Maximum Retail Price) per page for a bestselling book in India. I found the exercise fun (though at times tedious), and educating. And I hope that the readers and followers of this blog could learn a thing or two about the book market in India.

This time around, I thought of repeating the exercise albeit with a few changes. The methodology of data collection and the sources of the data remained the same as before, and I collected the raw data on July 20th, 2104. Therefore, all information, indicators and the ratios calculated for the purpose of this post may change with time. As before, I am also including the data sheet (yay, excel!) towards the end of this post, and those who like playing with numbers may find it useful.

But before I begin, I am summarizing the key findings below:

Figures 1 and 2 show the summary results from data collection. I think the table for most part is self explanatory, so I will focus on the comparison between the two months. And for reasons mentioned later in this post, I have compared the data across four online retailers only (Amazon.co.in, flipkart.com, google Play (India) and Infibeam.com).

The MRP per page fell between March and July across all sites except Infibeam, where the price actually rose. Since we are comparing MRP and not the discounted price, it does not mean that Infibeam is selling books at a lower discount compared to its competitors. It is likely that their bestseller list has a different set of books that are priced higher than the competition. The reason why MRP per page fell for fiction books could be because the sets of books that featured in bestseller lists in July and March are different.

Comparison of MRP per page of books across sites
Information compiled from Amazon (India), Flipkart, Google Play (India), Infibeam and others
Comparison of MRP per page of books across sites
Comparison of MRP per page based on Top 20 bestselling books: Information compiled from Amazon (India), Flipkart, Google Play (India), Infibeam and others

And here are the findings:

  • Bestseller lists are still entirely dominated by traditionally published books.

My take on this, as before, is as follows: Self publishers, have faith. The Indian self- publishing and ebook market is untapped, so sky is the limit!

  • The bestseller lists are still dominated by Nonfiction books such as Word Power Made Easy by Norman Lewis and study guides for Competitive Exams. One can clearly factor in the impact of Competitive exams (which as I said before are mostly held in May and June every year).
  • I was surprised that most of the Fiction books that feature in the bestseller lists were published 2 years ago or even prior. Among the books by International authors, The Fault in Our Stars and The Monk Who Sold His Ferrarri featured across multiple sites. Books by Indian Authors who write fiction, particularly Chetan Bhagat & Ravi Subramanian, have not featured prominently, though both authors are releasing their new books in the coming weeks. The bestseller list for fiction may change in next quarter- and I hope for an update to this post in October 2014. The books by Amish Tripathi (The Shiva Trilogy) still feature in the top 20 lists, but they now figure in the teens. In April, his books were mostly in the top 10 across multiple sites.

The above point makes me wonder: Is there such a dearth of good books that publishers have to keep reprinting a book that was written in 2003? (The Monk Who…)

Bestseller books on Flipkart
Snapshot of bestsellers on Flipkart- July 2014
Bestselling books- Flipkart.com
Bestselling books on Amazon.co.in

OR I wonder…

Are the publishers really doing a disservice to Indian readers by not publishing Indian edition of books such as those by Jonas Jonasson to Indian market?  Look at the price of these books in the figure below! Someone is really on some high grade <<insert the name of the first controlled substance that you can think of>>.

Jonas Jonasson book price in Rupees
Price of books by Jonas Jonasson on Amazon.co.in

I have not read any of this author’s books, but I was in Frankfurt and Berlin last month and I could see his books in multiple bookstores.

Or are the publishers simply trying to cash in on the popularity of a few known foreign authors (Dan Brown, Rhonda Bryne, Jeffery Archer, and the likes) and Indian authors (Amish Tripathi, Chetan Bhagat, Ravi Subramaniam…) and keep milking them?

The same site (Amazon) has listed a Low Priced Indian Edition of  Power of your Subconscious Mind by Michael Hutchison. Why can’t this be repeated for other authors? Alternately, will sites such as bloody good book help in bringing books by new talent in the bestseller list?

  • Time to drop Kobo for now from further analyses. The average MRP of their top five or six selling books is over Rupees 1,500 or over $ 25. These are mostly cookbooks, and these books seem way overpriced for Indian market. Moreover, their list is dominated by one author’s books: Lawrence Block. The see the screenshot below. It almost looks like spamming the website. I hope Kobo will fix this as soon as possible.

    Lawrence Block- Kobo- India
    the Top 20 selling books on Kobo (India page) are dominated by books written by Lawrence Block.
  • I also plan to drop data collection from Crossword and Landmark bookstores in subsequent editions. My focus is on ebooks- and the traditional stores are not really selling them in volumes, ans I feel that tracking these two sites may not be worth the effort. I have provided links in the raw data sheet for those who are interested for their own analyses.
  • I was able to find some indication of how much the bestselling audiobooks are priced at – again in terms of MRP per page. This information, however, is for the audio version of Amazon’s top 20 selling books only. Infibeam was the only other site where I could see some information on audiobooks. However, they had only two items listed under ‘bestseller’ category for audiobooks. One was sold as cassettes for Rs. 3,300 (that is over 50 dollars!), and the other one was in Hindi. I dropped the latter form consideration because Hindi is not in the data set yet. In a future iteration, I plan to fix that.
  • Use the data with a grain of salt. These are ‘spot’ values and not trends, and prices of ebooks particularly on Flipkart seem heavily discounted. Some of the bestsellers are listed at Rs. 2; so obviously that is not the usual MRP. This could lower the Average MRP per page than it actually should be. I have not removed the outliers. Also, on Google Play, sometimes there is a mismatch between the number of reviews that are shown next to description of the book and the actual number of reviews.

What’s next:

  • Going forward, I think that Amazon, Flipkart and Google Play should remain the main focus, with maybe Infibeam if there is some useful information there. I might also take a look at bookadda and other sites that have been recommended by many people across various forums. As a ‘control’ of sorts, I will also try and include names or articles that appear in newspapers, such as this one. ( I commented about it a few days ago in a twitter post)

    Asian Age Bestseller List - 28 May
    Asian Age Bestseller List
  • I hope we can get some more information on Audiobooks. Once ACX becomes available in India, this might be an easier task. Till then, one has to keep looking.
  • In the next quarter, I will focus on Fiction only and look at the non-top 20 books also maybe expand horizon to top 50 because Nonfiction books (read: study guides for competitive exams) are really clouding the data.

 I also plan to take a look at which books consistently figure across sites. And before I forget, here is the data file : July-2014-Top-20SellingBooks-India.

If you like this post and find the information useful, please leave a comment in the comments section below or message me on Twitter at @amarauthor.