Hey, at least it’s going the right direction. It was marginal, though. Essentially, I’m in a holding pattern until my next release in December.
That’s fine with me; my sales are paying my rent, and some other exciting stuff happened this month anyway. And because today is exactly six-months since the release of my first e-book If You Go Into The Woods, I’m going to take a little look back on how this whole self-publishing adventure has gone for me.
For those who don’t enjoy peeking in other people’s wallets, or talk of sales or money, I have some alternative reading for you, as always.
Last week, Barry Eisler wrote a superb guest post on Joe Konrath’s blog contrasting some writers’ fears of a future, potential Amazon monopoly with their blindness to an actual existing quasi-monopoly perpetrated by the large publishers. As usual, most critics ignored the substantive argument and focused on an analogy he used comparing writers who defend the abusive practices of some publishers to “house slaves”.
That analogy was first made by Mike Stackpole back in May. While he caught a bit of heat for it at the time, controversy only really kicked in when Barry Eisler linked back to that post. A lot of people got hot and bothered and seemed to miss the fact that he was referring to Roman times.
The hubbub led to Mike Stackpole penning a thoughtful and thought-provoking response to his critics and the godfather of steampunk, KW Jeter, reminding everyone that Mike Stackpole Knows What He Is Talking About. All worth reading.
For those of you who haven’t been distracted by those sexy links, here are the numbers:
A 10% rise on September, but still far from the heights of July and August. As I have a $2.99 release driving sales, revenue is much better than those first two months, and clocked in around $285.
I haven’t released anything new since the end of July, so this holding pattern is to be expected. Ultimately, I aim to build a business that isn’t so dependent on regular, fresh releases to sustain a decent level of sales, but I can’t expect to be at that point when all I have on the market are short stories and a standalone non-fiction title.
As in September, US sales were extremely erratic. Let’s Get Digital is my biggest seller, but it swings wildly between selling no copies and shifting seven or eight in a day. The rankings are all over the map too – it can drift out to 70,000 or climb up to 10,000. There is no pattern at all.
The UK is the opposite. Sales are stable, and growing, which is nice.
Let’s Get Digital is usually around the 5,000 mark there, but bounces between 2,000 and 10,000. I’m continually on the first page of the bestseller chart for books on Writing/Publishing and I think that must be responsible for a lot of sales/stability. I’m certainly doing nothing myself to promote the book there or elsewhere.
But the excitement this month – for me at least – lay outside of sales numbers. I signed a contract to translate Let’s Get Digital into Spanish to add to the French edition which is being translated right now.
The Spanish Kindle Store should be open before the end of the year, so it will be great to have a local language title ready when that happens. Both translation deals were made under the profit-sharing model outlined by Scott Nicholson in September.
On top of that, I launched a crowdfunding project which is going extremely well (my sincere thanks to everyone participating). Of the $2,000 I was hoping to raise, $1,900 has been pledged so far. Given that there are still thirteen days to go, it’s looking like I might exceed my target.
This has gotten me thinking about adding value for the funders (and eventual purchasers) of A Storm Hits Valparaíso for its December release. As I may have a little extra to play with, I’ve contacted an artist to commission some hand-drawn maps and I will be exploring paid promotional opportunities for the launch. And I will, of course, let you know how all these experiments work out.
The final project I embarked on this month (aside from continually wrestling with my final draft) was the launch of SouthAmericana.com. I haven’t had the time to devote myself to it fully yet, and the readership is still small. But the content is growing, including a recent guest post from a Danish author called Over The Andes in 2,766 Pieces.
You can read more about the genesis of South Americana, and my reasons behind launching it in this recent interview with Henry Baum of The Self-Publishing Review.
As I said at the top, it’s six months since I launched my first e-book.
I made my decision to self-publish a month before that – in April – and started this blog to document my experiences. It grew fast, far beyond my wildest projections, and this week I crossed 100,000 page views. More importantly, the posts have generated over 4,600 comments, which is great.
I gave myself a month to get my first title up. As is my wont, I scraped in on deadline day by the skin of my teeth and released If You Go Into The Woods on May 4th. The launch went great and it was a real buzz seeing my first title climb the charts. I got a huge kick from outselling Shakespeare and Kafka, even if it was just for a day or two.
I promoted that release pretty hard before realizing that much of that effort was essentially wasted when I had just one title out that was only earning me 35c a pop. Later that month I released Transfection – a story which I had only written a couple of weeks beforehand, which really brought home the advantages of digital self-publishing.
I never promoted that as hard, or sought as many reviews, and it didn’t make quite the same splash. I think it’s a stronger story and will ultimately sell more but, for the moment at least, the reviewers and sales numbers don’t agree with me – Transfection has only sold two-thirds the amount that If You Go Into The Woods did, and has been reviewed 25 times on Amazon US/UK as opposed to 42 for my first (which has a higher overall score too).
On the strength of my first month’s numbers, I decided to pull A Storm Hits Valparaíso from the three agents that were still considering it and publish it myself. I sought specific editorial advice on some structural issues and was pointed towards a manuscript appraisal service which sent me in the completely wrong direction. I got bogged down altogether before being rescued by my regular editor – whom I will never cheat on again :).
At the same time, though, the blog was really taking off. I was posting a series of articles on the various steps involved in self-publishing. I had intended just to compile the blog posts into a simple PDF for my blog-readers to download as a reference when I was done.
However, the popularity of the posts (I hit 25,000 views in July) got me thinking a little bigger. While there were great stuff out there explaining the revolutionary changes in the industry, and other great books detailing the steps for effective self-publishing, I thought there was room for a book which did both – why writers should self-publish, as well as how to go about it.
I also thought there was a gap in the market for a primer for beginners – from the perspective of a beginner. Some of the stuff I was reading assumed a lot of knowledge that I knew some beginners may not have. Everything writers needed to know was out there, but it was scattered across many different blogs and websites. And there was also a lot of misinformation and myths too.
I had a lot of time on my hands when I started self-publishing, so I was able to take the time and filter out all the bad stuff, and draw together all the good stuff. But I knew that other writers had far more time-constraints between kids, jobs, and other commitments.
I decided to put A Storm Hits Valparaíso on hold (and let it stew for a while before tackling the final edit), and Let’s Get Digital was born. My editor took a really active role in shaping the structure of the final book and clarifying the message.
At the last minute, I decided to include a bunch of success stories, as the only reference points for a lot of people were Hocking, Konrath, and Locke. While their success was inspiring to me, others dismissed them as anomalies. I knew from hanging out on Kindle Boards that the level of success was far deeper and wider than those three writers, and I was surprised and delighted when 33 successful self-publishers agreed to contribute.
I think their contributions really made the book, and I am eternally grateful that they took the time out of their busy schedules to share their journeys.
After some expert last-minute proofing, I released it at the end of July and, with the help of my contributors and regular blog readers, we really made some noise. The book almost cracked the Top 1000, on two separate sorties, and I made back the $1,000 I spent on publishing it in just over a month.
I also made the PDF version a free download on this site. The popularity of that on launch day managed to crash WordPress! I was completely oblivious, asleep in bed after being up for 24 hours straight preparing for launch day.
When I woke, I put the PDF up on Scribd to ease some of the pressure, and between the two, it has been downloaded nearly 4,000 times (in addition to well over 800 paid sales and nearly $200 in donations for the free download).
And those are just the downloads I can track. As the PDF was released under a Creative Commons License, people are free to print, copy, share, and email the book to friends. They can even put it up on their own site for download (as long as they don’t try and charge for it). So it’s probably spread a good deal wider than that.
One huge factor in that successful launch was getting 20 digital ARCs in the hands of reviewers who had agreed to post when the book went live – something I will be hoping to repeat for future releases.
The response has been extremely gratifying – 61 reviews on Amazon US/UK, 57 of which are five stars, and one reviewer even burst into song. That’s going to take a lot of beating.
August was spent catching up on real life stuff, guest post commitments, promoting Let’s Get Digital, and teasing out some short story ideas which led nowhere (so far). When I got back from holidays in mid-September, I threw myself into – finally – preparing A Storm Hits Valparaíso for release.
That was a real struggle at the start, but I have broken the back of it now, and it will be in my editor’s hands by the end of the month.
Overall, I couldn’t be happier with my first six months. I’ve released three titles, sold almost 1,200 books, and earned around $2,000 (around half that after costs). I would have preferred if I had released A Storm Hits Valparaíso already, but new projects and commitments outside of writing got in the way.
I’ve made a lot of friends and connections, and I have learned so much. My self-publishing experience couldn’t be more positive and I am really excited about the next six months.
That should see the release of the French and Spanish versions of Let’s Get Digital, and possibly a German edition if I can find a translator willing to work under a profit-sharing model. Also, my novel will finally be published – which I also plan to get translated, especially into Spanish, given the setting. I first started working on that book in 2006. Needless to say, I’m looking forward to crossing the finish line.
I have a second novel which I started earlier this year - set in 1900s New Orleans and Honduras – that I am dying to get back to, as well as a dystopian novella centered around a sick, twisted version of Big Brother which is going to be a huge amount of fun to write. I hope to release both of those over the next six months, as well as more shorts.
These sales reports/reviews are not intended as a trumpet-blowing exercise. There are many, many people selling lots more books than me – plenty who started after me too. But I know I’ve always found these kinds of things useful (especially when I was just starting out), and I hope it serves the same purpose for others.
I suppose I better get back to work (writing). Thank you to everyone who has bought a copy of my books, especially those who have taken the time to review them and spread the word.
This has been a blast!