In my new best practices ebook, The Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success, I explore at great length a concept I callViral Catalysts.  Think of viral catalysts as the virtual knobs, dials and levers attached to an ebook that an author or publisher can tweak to increase reader word-of-mouth.  Viral catalysts make books more available, discoverable and enjoyable to readers.  See Secret #19 in the book for a full discussion of viral catalysts.

Earlier this month at the RT Booklovers convention in Chicago, I decided to approach the viral catalyst challenge from a completely new angle for a presentation they titled MONEY MONEY MONEY, with the subtitle, “How Data Driven Decisions *Might* Help Authors Reach More Readers.” 

I analyzed a nine-month chunk of Smashwords sales data, aggregated across multiple Smashwords retailers, to determine if there were potential data-driven metrics that might reveal new viral catalysts that authors can put to work.  The data encompassed millions of dollars in book sales for a collection of slightly more than 50,000 books.  My study began with a series of questions that I thought could reveal potentially useful answers.

These questions included:

  • Do authors who change prices frequently sell more books?
  • If ebooks are immortal, how do sales develop over time?
  • How do individual titles develop at a retailer?
  • What’s the ideal word count for ebooks?
  • What word count do romance readers prefer?
  • What word count do erotica readers prefer?
  • What impact does price have on unit sales?
  • How are Smashwords authors pricing their books?
  • What are the most common price points?
  • What price range earns the author the most money?
  • What does the indie ebook sales distribution curve look like?
  • What’s the optimal price per word?

To learn the answers to these questions, I presented Henry House on our technical team with a massive wishlist for data dumps, and then I crunched his numbers in a spreadsheet.  Some of the findings were eye-opening and useful, and others were simply fun.  

I uploaded a modified version of the presentation to Slideshare, embedded below. 

As I caution in the presentation, data-driven decision-making is no substitute for writing a super-fabulous book. Write the greatest masterpiece you can, and then review the data for ideas that at best might enable you to add incremental improvements to reader enjoyment, accessibility and word-of-mouth.  Viral catalysts are all about incremental improvement.

Much of this data has never been shared with authors before.  If you find the data useful, please consider sharing it with your friends. Facebook it, tweet it, Google+ it.   Embed the presentation in your blog (click here to access the presentation at Slideshare, then click the “< > Embed” link to obtain the code you’ll cut and paste into your blog).  Talk about which aspects of the data have the most relevance to you and your publishing.  Does your experience differ from the average?  No problem, this is to be expected.  Every book is different.  Share your experiences.  When authors help authors advance best practices, all authors and readers benefit.  Enjoy!


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