Why Is My Book Not Selling?

Okay. Time for a confession. A Storm Hits Valparaiso is selling a little less than I had hoped. But that’s not what today’s post is about. This question – why is my book not selling? – is quite a common one and I would like to address it in a general way because I think many people slip up on the basics.

I would also like to use my new book as a case study, to show what steps I am taking to address somewhat tepid sales over the last couple of weeks. And in fact, the tide is already turning – thanks to a couple of tricks I pulled yesterday, but we’ll get to that.

As Seth Godin says, it’s far cheaper to design marketing into a product than to advertise it afterwards – and he’s right. But what does that mean for self-publishers? Well, if you don’t get the basics right, you are making your job incredibly difficult.

Too many self-publishers skimp on, say, editing or covers, then waste money on ads that do nothing for their sales. It’s not that ads are a waste of money per se – the right ad on the right site (for the right book) can have great results. But if your cover looks like something a drunkard knocked up the first time they used Photoshop, all the ads in the world won’t help.

So, the basics. After I skip through these, I’ll get into some marketing nitty gritty and my own bean-spilling. Stay with me, folks.

Story

All the following advice is predicated on the assumption that you have only published your best work and that your story is ready for public consumption. Newer writers especially may need to go through several drafts, and at least one round with a beta reader, to make sure the writing is of the requisite standard.

Self-editing is a skill that all writers need to learn. I will have a guest post on this topic next week, but I highly recommend Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King. (I haven’t read Sol Stein’s On Writing, but I know it’s held in similar esteem.)

Effective self-editing requires lots of practice, but it’s really worth putting in the time (and will reduce the amount of professional editing you need, saving you money too). Plus, as you get better at self-editing, you won’t need to cycle through as many drafts.

Covers

Your book’s cover is the face it shows the world. You want to make a good first impression, don’t you? A smart, professional cover makes all the difference. People really do judge a book by its cover.

I can hear the complaints: this stuff shouldn’t matter; it’s all about the writing. The world is unfair. Get over it. If you want your book to stand out from the crowd, if you want to send the reader a signal that you have taken as much care with the inside of the book, you better make sure the outside looks good. In short, get a professional to design your cover.

Joel Friedlander has an excellent post on common mistakes book cover designers make, and I have a post here on the process I go through with my designer. If you are struggling with covers, read them both (note: Joel’s site has an astonishing number of fantastic posts on all aspects of self-publishing. He also runs monthly cover design awards, commenting on most entries – which is very instructive).

If you would like to show some love to your cover designer, please give them a mention in the comments so others can check out their work.

Editing

This might be where self-publishers skimp most of all, and readers will spot the errors straight away. But even if you have eliminated the obvious stuff, there may well be deeper problems.

I have written about the importance of editing here and here, and I will have two guest posts from professional, experienced editors next week (both of whom are also authors), as this topic is so important it needs more attention than a few short paragraphs. Every time I get an MS back from my editor, her suggestions improve the work immeasurably. But more importantly, I learn something. So you aren’t just investing in your book, but in yourself as a writer.

I know what the main objection will be – price. But you must consider it an investment in your book. If you can’t afford it, find a way. Save, barter, crowdfund, agree a payment plan with your editor, give up that diamante-encrusted ham you are so fond of – whatever it takes (although I would draw the line at getting into debt and/or an elaborate heist).

Again, please feel free to give a shout-out to your editor below.

Blurb

I’m not the greatest blurb writer in the world, and it usually takes a few weeks after my book is published before I’m relatively happy with it (often after I get a review which describes the book more succinctly than I can). Here’s the blurb I had up for my latest release until just recently:

A Storm Hits Valparaíso. In 1810, José de San Martín deserts the Spanish Army and returns home to Buenos Aires to lead a bloody revolt against his former masters. Struggling with an increasing dependence on opiates, San Martín forms a secret army of thieves, mercenaries, slaves, and prostitutes to free Argentina from the Spanish Empire.

A Storm Hits Valparaíso is an epic, 400-page historical adventure with a huge cast of characters whose stories gradually interweave: two brothers torn apart by love; a slave running for his life, a disgraced British sailor seeking redemption in a foreign land; an Indian trapped in the death mines of Potosí; and a Spanish general who deserts the army to raise the flag of rebellion against Madrid.

Ugh. Just makes you want to click onto the next book, right? It’s boring, makes the book sound like non-fiction, and no connection is made with the reader. Here’s the new improved version, crowdsourced in a Facebook group (thanks guys):

Catalina Flores de la Peña’s tongue got her in more trouble than any other part of her body, even though there were far more likely candidates. But when a storm rolls into her sleepy port town, she finds herself embroiled with a gang of adventurers, mercenaries, and prostitutes on a journey to free South America from the Spanish Empire.

A Storm Hits Valparaíso is an epic, historical adventure starring two brothers torn apart by love; a slave running for his life; a disgraced British sailor seeking redemption; and José de San Martín, an Argentine general who deserts the Spanish Army to lead a bloody revolt against his former masters.

Can you see the difference? The second is far more enticing. Each sentence should hook the reader. Keep it brief, and make sure there are no lazy words in there. Try and capture something of the voice of your book. And don’t write a plot summary or a query letter. Sell the book.

There is some nifty advice on blurbs at Publetariat (another excellent site), written by Joanna Penn (who also has a fantastic site herself). Blurb writing is a skill, but you can get quite handy just by looking at the books at the top of the charts and copying the structure.

It might feel a little cheesy boiling your magnum opus down to a few hooky sentences, or you might find it tricky if you have a complex plot or multiple main characters, but my book has seven main characters. I only alluded to that, and really focused on one.

Your aim is to get the reader to click the sample/buy button, not to write a school report. After you get some nice reviews, you can add those underneath the blurb, which will add weight. I think my first three releases are good examples of this (here, here, and especially this one here). And if you are wondering how to add effects like bold and italics, you do that through Author Central (where you should also set up your profile).

Price

I’ve spoken about a pricing a great deal here. All I will underline is the importance of experimentation. And if you are going for the higher end of the spectrum, you better make sure the rest are pristine.

I launched A Storm Hits Valparaiso at $4.99. In retrospect, that might have been a little saucy, considering I was branching out into a new genre and wouldn’t have that much carry-over from the audience I built up with my other releases.

I think it’s a price I could sell this book at, but perhaps not until it gets a few more reviews and/or visibility. But I will be experimenting to find the sweet spot (more on that below), and I suggest you do the same for each of your titles.

Sample

Okay. The reader has clicked on your arresting cover, was sucked in by your compelling blurb, liked the price, and clicked on the sample button. You’re nearly there. Whatever you do, don’t screw up when you are this close to a sale.

Your book should be properly formatted. If you can’t learn how to do it yourself, I have recommended two services on that page. Recommend your own in the comments.

Don’t force the reader to wade through pages of unnecessary stuff before they get to the actual story (i.e. dedication, table of contents, acknowledgements) – move all of it, bar the copyright page, to the back so that they get more story in the sample, and they dive straight into it.

Finally, make sure the opening of your story grabs the reader. Open with a bang (but it doesn’t literally have to be an explosion, or similar dramatic action, it can be an arresting sentence). If there is no conflict on that first page, you have probably started your story too soon.

The Wisdom of the Crowd

These are the key components to a professional looking book. They are no guarantee of success, but if you get these basics right, you are giving yourself a much better shot.

If you are struggling with these basics, or can’t put your finger on what’s wrong with the whole package you are presenting, I highly recommend an excellent (free) service provided by the New York Times bestselling self-publisher Victorine Lieske.

Together with her regulars at Why Is My Book Not Selling, she will run the rule over everything – critiquing your presentation through a readers eyes, but providing astute advice on how to remedy whatever issues you may have from the perspective of an extremely successful self-publisher.

But that’s not your only option. I road-test everything. I use beta readers to whip my story into shape. I put two different versions of my covers on Twitter to see what the reaction is. I crowdsource blurb advice on forums and Facebook. All of that costs nothing, and can create some anticipation for your release.

Marketing

I covered marketing basics in Let’s Get Digital. I think there is no real need to go over them here (but if you want to, the PDF is free here, and you can just read Steps 6 to 10) as I think most authors understand the importance of websites, blogging, Twitter, Facebook and the rest. Let’s assume you are doing all that stuff, that you have tried giveaways, competitions, ads, the lot, and you are still getting nowhere.

I know the feeling, I’ve been there many times, and I’m sure I will again. Just recently, I released a book I had been writing (on and off) for over five years. I know what it feels like to pour your heart and soul into something, to put out what you feel is your very best work, only to have it slide into relative obscurity.

After a good launch in December, sales dried up this month. I was selling one a day (all channels) all month. One of my shorts was outselling it, despite being free everywhere except Amazon! But, I didn’t panic. It was, after all, early days, I was confident the basics were in place, and I had some tricks lined up to get it a little more attention.

Right after the launch, I updated the back-matter of all existing titles – with nice blurbs for all my other books, but really pushing the new one with a good sample – and then made my two shorts free on Smashwords.

Yesterday morning, both shorts finally went free on Amazon (because of the holidays, it took about three weeks). Immediately, I slashed the price of the new book to $2.99, and announced it as a two day sale in the blurb. The timing was especially fortuitous because I have an ad spot today on a readers’ site.

I sent a couple of tweets… and that was pretty much it. And I got lucky. Real lucky. But having all the basics in place helped. I had 8,000 downloads across both shorts in 24 hours or so. And that’s just Amazon. They are free everywhere else too.

If You Go Into The Woods has been the #1 Free Short Story on Amazon (and #3 Literary Fiction) for about 12 hours now.

Transfection would have been #2 if it hadn’t been stripped of its categories in the transition to the free listings. The stories are currently at #58 and #104 in the overall free listings, but did peak a little higher than that late last night.

On top of that, I had my best sales day (of paid stuff) this month. I might top that today with the ad spot.

Plus those thousands of downloads will eventually be read (or at least some of them will be), and they all have a nice sample of the new book in the back. Even if only a teeny tiny percentage of those downloaders purchase the new release, I’ll do very well out of this. If nothing else, it gets my name out there, and give me a little (a lot actually) extra visibility.

The sale for A Storm Hits Valparaiso ends at some point tomorrow. So if you want to grab a copy – and save yourself $2  – you better be quick. I’m switching the freebies back to paid tomorrow on Smashwords too. I’ve no idea how long that will take to filter through to Amazon (could be a few days, might be a few weeks), but grab them while you can!

You might not be able to employ similar techniques, but try thinking outside the box. Be creative. Even better: come up with something no-one else is doing, or at least something different from what everyone else is doing.

A lot of writers who are disappointed by their sales will be tempted into KDP Select, but it may not work out for them (especially if those basics aren’t in place), and then they could be tied down to the terms for 90 days anyway. I’ll have another guest post on Friday, this time from an author who is doing fantastically well by staying out.

Whatever you decide, don’t lose heart. Your situation can turn around very quickly. Getting down achieves nothing. Checking your sales achieves nothing other than putting you in a sour mood. And whining? It does all of that, plus it makes you look silly (whining in private though, is fine – my whiskey bottle is stained with tears).

Have confidence in yourself. You wrote a book! Only a tiny minority ever cross that finish line. Take that immensely creative brain of yours, take those rigorous standards you apply when selecting books to read, and go over every aspect of your presentation. Look at your marketing and see how you can get more eyeballs on your work – because that’s what will turn things around for you, but give yourself a helping hand by having those basics in place.

A caution: make sure you aren’t spending time on promotion when you’ve got one or two cheap titles out. Unless you have some earners (either titles pulling in volume at that price, or higher priced books that can get you a good return per sale), then it’s not really worth it.

And write something new. Nothing reinvigorates you, your readers, or your whole approach than new work.

Speaking of which…

About davidgaughran

David Gaughran is an Irish writer, living in Prague, and author of Mercenary, A Storm Hits Valparaiso, Let's Get Digital, Let's Get Visible and this here blog thing.
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133 Responses to Why Is My Book Not Selling?

  1. Lori Oster says:

    Thank you for this post! I don’t have anything to sell, but I’m always looking for writerly wisdom to share with my writing community. This is excellent, with great links to additional resource.

  2. margaret y. says:

    My cover designer is really great and reasonably priced. He does formatting too. He did the cover for my books Fate’s Mirror by M.H. Mead and upcoming The Caline Conspiracy by M.H. Mead.

    The deisgner’s name is Glendon Haddix at StreetlightGraphics.com

  3. David,

    Thanks for the shout out. And I have to agree with you about the primacy of editing. Even as a book designer, my advice for authors is to put editing #1 on their list when they are creating a budget for self-publishing. This post is excellent and down-to-earth advice.

  4. Great post today. I have a good number of titles for sale, and I had steadily increasing sales for all of 2011 (when I started publishing). Then in January, I plateaued. Sales have just been hovering in place, occasionally even dipping a little. It’s very frustrating because I haven’t changed anything. Kindle sales are through the roof, so I should still be seeing an uptick. The problem is that Amazon changed the game on us again. They did it last summer with the start of the $.99 fire sales and now they’ve done it with FREE. It doesn’t matter how low I price my books, I can’t compete with free. So I’m considering KDP seriously. I may jump in and commit this week. I don’t know what else to do.

    • For me at least, it was only the new one that underwhelmed. Sales of other titles were great (especially in the UK for some reason). KDP Select can work for some, but I’m extremely wary of that exclusivity requirement. It certainly counts me out right now – I get around 15% of sales outside Amazon.

  5. B Y Rogers says:

    I have no issues with my graphic artist http://digitalspin.deviantart.com/ and I agree with have the ms. proofread, if not professionally edited. What I need to work on is the blurb and the self editing. Just ordered the self editing book. Thanks…
    Maybe one day all this will come together for me.
    Thanks Dave… glad it is working for you.

  6. Jaye says:

    I will add one thing to your most excellent list, David. Be patient with your market.

    Self-publishing gives authors opportunities to explore smaller markets or write more unusual works to see if they can grow a market. The reality is, if your market is small, it will take longer to reach it and acquire it. For instance, a mystery set in ancient Rome has a smaller market than a thriller. Not because one book is better than the other, but because there are fewer Roman mystery fans than there are thriller fans.

    That said, there is an advantage to smaller markets. The hardcore fans tend to be very loyal. Meaning, if for some reason Roman mysteries turn into a hot trend, the fans will hold up your book as the standard and you could be on your way to bestsellerdom. Even if it doesn’t become a huge trend, the self-publisher doesn’t have the overhead a big publisher does so it take far fewer unit sales to turn a very nice profit.

    How does one find the smaller markets? Quality and quantity, two things the author can control.

  7. Neal Hock says:

    Great post, David. I’m a freelance editor, and I agree that editing is the thing some authors try to skimp on. But having that other set of eyes going over their work is invaluable. Not all authors need the same level of editing, but realizing what level of editing is needed is vitally important to the quality of a book. Editing must be viewed as an investment, and you hit the nail on the head when you said it’s not just for the book but also for the writer.

    -Neal

  8. “But if your cover looks like something a drunkard knocked up the first time they used Photoshop, all the ads in the world won’t help.”

    Lol. This is quite possibly the funniest statement I’ve read all day. Great post by the way, and best of luck with your promotional efforts.

  9. I would like to throw in another formatter recommendation (in edition to the two on my formatting page above). Heather at Cyber Witch Press is highly recommended (and quick, and reasonably priced) http://cyberwitchpress.com/

    She is doing print formatting for me at the moment, and it’s shaping up to be a really nice looking book. I do my own e-book formatting, but she does that too (and Smashwords, which some formatters don’t do).

  10. Melissa says:

    Hi David,

    Your pricing advice is right – experiment and keep experimenting. I’ve just recently set book 1 of my trilogy to zero, while leaving the prequels at 99 cents and the sequel at 2.99. The first book is being downloaded by the thousands and it is increasing sales of the other books as well. This seems to be working for me.

    I think also that book sales have tapered off in general because there are so many freebies out there that readers just expect everything to be at an extremely low price or free. So we’ll see how this pans out in the next few months.

    V/r,
    Melissa

  11. Good advice, David. I hadn’t thought about not putting the title, dedication, TOC and such in the sample. When I scout around on Amazon I often see it both ways. However, I will keep this advice in mind. A good deal of good links and references in this post. Much appreciated.

  12. Mari Stroud says:

    This is a great post! I have a friend who takes me firmly by the hands and shouts, “STOP BEING CRAZY!” whenever I start wanting to check my Amazon ranking every hour on the hour. It’s worked so far.

  13. JJ Toner says:

    Another great post, David. Very helpful. There’s hours of following up for me to do to read all those links.

    In my opinion, editing (professional editing) is the most important arrow in an indie author’s quiver. By that I mean the sort of editing that looks at plot as well as the quality of the writing, and not getting your friend of neighbor to read it. I have read dozens of indie books that have not been edited by a professional and, boy, does it show! These books do nothing but bury the future prospects of the writer. I have sampled (and declined) hundreds of books like that. I know editing costs money, but it’s as essential as wings on an airplane.

    My own professional editor is Lucille Redmond. She’s incredibly good with every aspect of writing. She has a shingle at http://writing.ie/writers-toolbox/services-for-writers.html?sobi2Task=sobi2Details&catid=4&sobi2Id=17

    Anyway, rant over. Great post. And good luck with future sales.

    JJ

  14. TC Avey says:

    Wow, thanks for all the advice, so much for me to take in! Thanks for all the links as well. I will definitely be reading through all of this in more detail as well as passing this information on to others I know who are self publishing and/or thinking about self-publishing.

  15. Thank you – lots of great info and some new sources, such as the website, Why Is My Book Not Selling. Love it!

    Much better product description second time around! I’m not sure how I feel about moving the copyright and stuff to the back of the book, though I agree with the reason. I’m curious to know which readers would prefer. Here’s a couple of things Sean Platt and I have done with our Yesterday’s Gone series which may have helped sales.

    Included product descriptions for our other titles. We’re thinking of including teasers, as well, say the first chapter of a similar title.

    Created a newsletter. One of the best things we’ve done is actually one of the most old school – the newsletter. We write to our readers regularly, offering free short stories, contests, and having conversations with them. The newsletters aren’t just product pitches, though. They’re friendly, humorous, and an ongoing conversation which has sparked many email conversations with readers. It’s a great way to connect with your readers. One of the things we did in the newsletter was stress how much reviews mean to all indie authors, and a number of readers wrote back saying they had no idea the importance of reviews and have started reviewing our titles. I’ve subscribed to a few big name author newsletters and was shocked how cold and salesy they were. They did nothing to foster relationships with the readers. Obviously, a big name writer can’t possibly converse with every one of his readers – there’s just not enough time in the day. But they could put out better, friendlier newsletters. It’s a chance to talk directly to your audience and get to know one another.

    Put another product description on the front page. I only recently started doing this. And while it might seem superfluous, consider this — many readers buy books in bulk, especially free or discounted titles. You never know WHEN they’re gonna open your book. So when they do stumble across it, you want to entice them again, because there’s a good chance they forgot what your book is about, and it’s not like they can flip the book over and read the back cover or inside jacket. Put your back page copy up front. It sets the mood, entices, and reminds them why they got your book.

    • Excellent suggestions there. I do have a mailing list, but I keep it for new releases only. That’s a decision I made based on the profile of those signing up to that versus, say, blog subscribers who seemed to want more regular info. But there are plenty of writers doing it your way to great success, and possibly it’s more apt with your serialized model.

      The other suggestions are great too – I keep meaning to experiment with the blurb at the front of the book, particularly for the free hoarders/or those who go and sample 100 books to read later (a reasonable percentage, I suspect).

      Re moving front matter – I suggest moving everything *except* the copyright page. I think that should still stay up front. I make exceptions for things like a map in my historical, or an important quote which sets the tone, but it’s a good rule of thumb that anything you want to keep up front really has to justify its position. For example, I can’t think of a good reason for having the ToC up front (except *perhaps* for reference/non-fiction).

      • Catana says:

        Writers need to remember that everything they put up front is going to cut into the sample. I’ve seen a lot of books that have very stingy samples, and by the time you get through all the front matter, there’s no room left for the text.

    • I love that suggestion about putting the description at the front to remind the reader down the road what he or she was expecting from the story, especially if a lot of time has passed.

  16. Catana says:

    There must be something wrong with me. I prefer the first paragraph of the original blurb. Comparing them, it sounds much more like something I’d want to read. Starting off with someone’s tongue just doesn’t do it for me, and if the woman isn’t the main protagonist, why give the impression she is?

    About the drop in sales. Isn’t that normal once the post-xmas rush is over? People are spent out, their ereaders are chock full, and they’re already looking forward to tax time (Americans, anyway).

    • Hi Catana – different strokes, I guess! Just to clarify, Catalina is one of the principal characters in the book. Out of the seven main characters, she is one of the two or three “main” ones, and the principal in many ways.

      Re the drop in sales – Jan/Feb is actually prime e-book buying time. All those new e-reader owners go on a buying binge which lasts a couple of months (at least, that’s what happened last year and what seems to be happening so far this year). All my other titles were up, it was just the new one that started well, then collapsed. Sorry – I should have been clearer.

  17. Shauna says:

    Hi David, It’s great to hear you being upfront about book sales when it seems all you hear is how brilliantly everyone is doing. I agree with your words on creating a great product. The comments that have pleased me most (well okay all nice comments please me!) are around the joy of a good story and not having to wade through error-ridden writing.
    I’m interested in your tactics, and had downloaded your short stories from Smashwords a week or so ago. I enjoyed Transfection, but between writing and trying to get my head around Twitter I haven’t read A Walk in the Woods yet – it’s on the ever-growing list.
    With your shorts in mind I decided to try out KDP on a small collection of my short stories and see if that kick-starts sales of my novel.
    Keep up the good work.

  18. Since 99.9% of eBooks start out selling very slowly, and the good ones often see slow sales for a while before a combination of luck and good word of mouth hits, I’m not worried about you yet. ;) Having the drive to keep trying new things and seeking out readers will always work in your favor, and you obviously have that drive.

    • Yeah, I was just going to do a general post on why books don’t sell, then the free thing happened and I thought it might be good to take my new release as a case study, but I probably should have elaborated on the topic that patience (as Jaye suggested above) is important too, and one month in for a new book is no time at all to start worrying.

  19. Catana says:

    Additional note. You don’t have any commas between the tags for Transfection on Smashwords, so they read as one solid line. You might want to check the other books, just in case.

  20. Thanks for another interesting post.
    My Leon Chameleon PI books were originally trad published and are beautifully illustrated, so I ‘m confident that they are not rubbish. I’ve had some good reviews, and both parents and children seem to enjoy them. I’ve sold a few on Amazon US, but only one on Amazon UK and I don’t know why. (At the moment they have an incorrect price of 104p instead of 77 p, but when they were correctly priced they still didn’t sell.) I’ve done all the usual marketing to no avail. A mystery for Leon to solve!

  21. Paul Dillon says:

    Hi David,

    Thanks for sharing your digital publishing thoughts and experiences; and congratulations on the 8000 downloads! I’ve just grabbed my bargain $2.99 copy of A Storm Hits Valparaiso. I hope to publish my first title in the next few months and need all the advice I can get.

  22. rmv says:

    as for books on writing by writers, i would avoid stephen king’s “on writing.” half of it is just an autobiography, which may or may not be interesting, but it has little to do with writing. also, his advice is rather general. “find a comfortable place. write every day. revise a lot. etc.” it’s nothing you don’t already know. he also advises to not plot a story and just right to see where the story takes you. he only “plotted” one story (“from a buick 8″), and he wasn’t happy with the outcome. nor was i.

    regardless of my criticisms of king, which you can find here http://brainsnorts.wordpress.com/2006/04/21/stephen-king-is-overrated/ he writes wonderfully compelling ideas with excellent sentence structure, but he juse doesn’t know how to end a story. since that was written, i’ve found further evidence that he can’t write an ending, but i haven’t bothered to update the post.

    here’s an analogy, and fair or unfair, not sure. in the beginning of a story you introduce a character. then you put him up a tree. then you throw rocks at him. by the end of the story, you’ve got to figure a way to get him out of that tree, down on the ground, but you can’t ignore the rocks and the branches. with king, he ignores the rocks and branches. he puts a character very high in the biggest tree, and he throws huge boulders at him, and it’s wonderful. however, that character will often just suddenly appear on the ground and safely out of the tree. how did he get down? king often doesn’t tell us. instead he wants to get away with, “well, it’s up to you how he got down. it’s whatever you think, whatever works for you.” hey king, that’s a cop out, and that’s not what we pay you for. if we want a book like that, we’ll write our own, and then YOU give US the money.

    i can’t say i’ve read a good book on writing. but i can say that if there’s a college nearby with writing classes, specifically writing a novel, try to get into the class without enrolling in school. you can sometimes “audit” a class, meaning you take the class without credit and just for the practical knowledge. I did that once, and it was amazing, and i’ll write a post about that sometime soon.

    • Catana says:

      I have On Writing, and I did get a few good pointers from it, but I agree that it isn’t the best book for beginning writers to get a whole lot of solid information. Also, there’s a tendency for successful novelists to base their “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts” on what works for them. This includes not only King, but bloggers like Dean Wesley Smith. “Don’t Plot” is like another writer’s advice (Heinlein, I think) not to rewrite. What works for them has been honed over years of writing, and can be very bad advice for beginners.

      • rmv says:

        i certainly won’t say there is “not” a good book about writing. i will only say i haven’t read one yet. that probably means i need to read more.

      • I have to say I loved King’s “On Writing”. Yes, he’s a little prescriptive in places (i.e. adverbs are the spawn of Satan), but that was the book that changed me from someone who talked about being a writer to someone who did something about it. I’ll never forget that.

  23. @David, I am reading an interesting book that formula-izes what you’re doing. It’s called Action Trumps Everything; is co-authored by the president of Babson college. It’s a book about how entrepreneurs think; the bottom line is that in cases when there is no existing data one can use to predict an outcome and therefore develop a plan, you have to simply take action. Specifically, you take whatever action, however small, you think will step you a bit closer to your goal; then you assess whether the action seemed to work; then you use what you’ve learned to either act again or change goals.

    With indie publishing, we’re all working with so little data/so much uncertainty, that we are all basically forced to operate like entrepreneurs whether we want to or not ;-)

    In my case, I decided to enroll one of my novels (Can Job) in KDP Select. My sales through PubIt and Smashwords were negligible, so it was a zero-risk action, and I can always pull it out of the program when the 90 days is up if I want to.

    Honestly, the giveaways (I’ve used 2 of my 5 freebie days) didn’t do much for me. They gave me a 24 hour spike in activity but have yet to translate into any real difference in paid sales.

    It’s possible that I picked bad days. Wouldn’t it be nice to know what days of the week work best for giveaways?

    @Jaye, your insight about markets is something I’ve considered. People who have read Can Job have told me they love it, but it’s definitely a somewhat niche-y book (in a nutshell, I’m targeting the sort of people who laugh at Dilbert; my mother, not so much).

    That said, it also *may* be a flaw in the book itself. The germ of the book is: what if a company launched a product, then discovered that their entire launch campaign was based on a kid’s drawing, not an actual product?

    And the opening of the book is the kid creating the drawing. So . . . backstory, basically.

    IOW I’ve broken one of the rules of modern publishing. Or at least bent it — I don’t think the opening is as dull as a truly awful “backstory first” novel — otoh I may be asking readers to wait too long to get to the stuff that is actually about modern corporations etc.

    Another item on my wish list: I wish Amazon shared how many people sampled books, so that we could start to amass data on sample grabbing-to-sales conversions.

    In any case, if that is my issue, that’s a project for some other day, as it would take major surgery to fix — and I have other things on my plate, including another novel for which I’m getting a pro cover (plug here for my designer, Derek Murphy, http://bookcovers.creativindie.com/) and a third which is now out to my beta readers. I’m chomping at the bit to see how they do once they’re ready for prime time . . .

  24. Hello David,
    Thanks for this post! I have a title that is doing very well. I would love to update it to include information about my latest book. I hope you can answer a few questions that are keeping me from acting.

    1. Does the original version continue to be available while the new version is being uploaded?
    2. How long does it take for the new version to go live?
    3. Are the customers of the old version notified about the new version? I hope not as there is not new content, just refreshed back matter.

    Is there anything else you can share about refreshing Kindle titles?
    Thanks!!!
    Veronica

    • Hi Veronica,

      I recommend doing that as soon as you can. Just be aware that there are some (unconfirmed) reports that going into “Publishing” status (i.e. when you change a price or upload a new version of your book) can kill sales momentum (possibly by reducing visibility?). Unconfirmed, I should underline, but I’ve noticed it myself, and now only make changes to a book when it’s not on a run of sales. As to your questions:

      1. Yes.
      2. It depends. Anything between an hour and two days, but around 8 – 12 hours seems to be normal right now.
      3. No. The only exception I know of is when there have been complaints about typos or formatting errors, and then Amazon ask you to correct same, and then when you do, they mail all purchasers.

      Dave

      • Red Tash says:

        I wrote to Amazon & had them send an update of This Brilliant Darkness, because I had several friends who’d purchased it months ago, before I’d made typo corrections & rephrased back matter. I didn’t want them to read the original upload & think me stupid! I also noticed while reading another author’s book that it was littered with errors, and I *knew* she’d hired an editor to revamp the work, post-publishing. She was also getting dinged in reviews, so I checked with her, and Amazon hadn’t sent an update for her book, either. A lot of people just buy books and then wait to read them, so if you’ve caught more than a couple of errors, don’t wait to request that update. I def. wouldn’t want to wait for a complaint to dislodge your book from the virtual sales floor. Best to be proactive.

        Congrats on the sales hike. Hang in there!

  25. Matthew Iden says:

    Hi Dave – Great post. Since I stumbled across your blog several months ago, I’ve felt like you’re bushwacking for the rest of us who are right behind you. I appreciate the candor with which you reveal your thinking and your successes (or failures).

    On another note, is “Why is My Book Not Selling?” the title of the sequel to LGD? If so, I can provide an expert opinion in the back, lol.

    • Bushwhacking. I like that concept.

      “Why Is My Book Not Selling?” is a title I ripped off Victorine’s blog, so no, I couldn’t use it as a title. However, I will probably do a second edition of Let’s Get Digital this summer. Maybe sooner, maybe not – there are a few things ahead of it in the queue.

  26. An update: closing in on 10k downloads. “Woods” is now #2 in Literary Fiction (and still #1 in shorts). No categories yet for “Transfection”.

  27. David, I think you’ll need to give it some time. This is a new genre and different audience for you, so perhaps you’re not seeing numbers you expect when compared to your other books. Still, I don’t this will change. You’re a terrific writer and promoter and I believe you have all the key elements in place, as you mentioned in the post, to make Valparaiso a success. Still, you can’t discount the impact of Amazon’s actions, including the glut of free books that are available, on visibility. It’s become a little more difficult to have your voice heard. Also, I believe that historical fiction, as one writer in the genre to another, is sometimes a tougher sell than other “sexier genres”. Hope that’s not true in Europe. Hang in there.

    • I’m not particularly downhearted or disappointed, and I do understand it’s very early days. And historical fiction can have a poe-faced image that’s hard to shake with many readers – true. I suppose that it’s our job to try and change that impression!

      I’m sure it will take time. I’m happy to see an uptick in the last couple of days (1 a day to, roughly, 6 a day for the new one), so that’s great. And they LOVE their historical fiction in the UK.

  28. My cover designer for my first book was J. Simmons. I picked the background photo, but he did the rest of the design. The experience basically taught me that I am not an artist – the finished product was much better than my original idea.

    I’ve been wavering back and forth for a while over whether I ought to fiddle with my blurb. Any tips on writing one for a short story collection? With seven stories, I didn’t want it to just become a list, so I only described the plot of three (and briefly mentioned the title of a fourth because it had placed in a competition). But a couple of the ones I didn’t mention seem to be reader favorites, so I may try to work at least one more of them into the blurb.

    At this point, I feel like I’ve done everything I’m supposed to with this particular book. I know I’m trying to break into a pretty slow-moving genre (Western) and I made it even tougher on myself by starting with a story collection rather than a novel, so all I can do is work on getting more things written and published. The next one in a line is (hopefully) going to be a historical mystery novella, and I’m toying with the idea of going KDP Select just for a short time after release – see if I can use a couple of free days to get it noticed, and then un-enroll it and upload to B&N and Smashwords too. I wouldn’t even consider going to all the trouble of pulling my already-published book from other channels to try Select, but with a new release I wouldn’t have anything to lose. What do you think of the idea?

    • I haven’t released a collection yet (or at least, the one I did had only two stories), so perhaps someone else can chime in there.

      With regard to Select, just be aware that even if you un-enroll, by the terms of the ToS, you are still bound by exclusivity for a minimum of 90 days. The only exception is (I believe) the 5 day waiver period at the start – but you lose that waiver once you use a free day. Don’t forget, you can always go free the old way (which is what I did). It’s a bit more hassle, you can’t time it, and you won’t pole-vault back into the paid charts like you do with Select (unless you are lucky), but you will get more eyeballs on your work.

      If you were tempted to try Select properly, perhaps the best time is on release so that you don’t start building an audience on other channels, then cut them off for 90 days – losing any hard fought momentum. On the other hand, if you aren’t gaining any traction on other channels, then perhaps the exclusivity requirement (people’s biggest problem with Select) won’t matter so much.

      • I have just published (as a publisher) two short story anthologies, one 24 stories and 5 teasers from another 24 stories out shortly. I am confident the resurgence of the short story is just around the corner. It is so suited to modern lifestyle and technology. Read Jack London’s A Piece of Steak and tell me the big publishers have not been denying us nourishment for too many years.

  29. Great heartfelt post David.

    I’m in a similar boat–just launched book two of my series. It had a great first five days (thanks in part, no doubt, to family/friends), but now sales are tapering off. I’m doing the usual social promo, but also trying to reach new readers via subject matter. That is, the book’s background is a simmering volcano, and so I’m contacting geology/volcanology websites. Also contacting the newspaper of the (real) town in which the novel is set.

    I’d think you’d have a number of subject-matter sites to mine for Valparaiso. The book sounds great. Off to buy it…

  30. LM Preston says:

    Thanks for the post. I also will like to add a post I did on Editing Software and how to use it to help clean up your mss, http://lmpreston.blogspot.com/2012/01/editing-sucks-but-there-are-tools-to.html Covers do make a big difference since it’s the first thing that readers grab at. Don’t skimp there or on edits.

  31. wo3lfWoelf says:

    Thanks for the article David. As always, insightful and rich with resources. Just a thought: Hemingway, being one of many writers who serves as inspiration to my feeble attempts at writing, also wrote historical fiction. And he is still selling today. At the end of the day, I think good writing trumps categorisation, and I think this is where patience come in. You’re a good writer and word of mouth is powerful. Good luck.

  32. J.A. Jernay says:

    I highly recommend Heather Kern at Popshop Studio. She’s been a pro with Random House, etc for years and has a curriculum vitae a mile long. She’s transitioning to this new world of indie publishing and is definitely looking for new clients.

    I’ve used her for five covers thus far and plan to do so for many, many more. She’s great.

  33. There is one other thing I wasn’t sure whether to include in this post, but I’ll mention it here.

    The day I uploaded my newbie, 23 backlist titles from the world’s top-selling historical novelist were uploaded at the same time. Naturally, they swamped the Hot New Releases list, and kept me off the first page in my two categories (Historical and Literary), despite great sales in the first two days.

    The Hot New Releases list can be essential for sustaining that wave you get in the first days from family, friends, blog readers, mailing list subscribers, and those that come across your launch promo. You get 30 days on it (used to be 90), but it’s also populated by all the books from Amazon and large publishers which are up for pre-order, so competition can be tough.

    23 titles from a big player in your genre was a killer though.

    However, these are things that are outside your control. And they will happen (and it’s nothing compared to the hundreds of backlist Romance titles that flooded the list last year).

    Again, you can whine about it, or think of a creative solution. For me, that meant disregarding any potential visibility from the Hot New Releases List (you really need to be on the first page of that), and coming up with another way to get new eyeballs on my work.

    Roll with the punches, peeps!

    • I should also say that, in hindsight, I screwed up by choosing two ultra-competitive categories (Historical & Literary). I think one competitive one, and one less competitive one is a far better strategy, unless you are super confident you are going to fly out of the traps (I wasn’t, I just made a bad decision).

      I should have gone for Historical, and something more drilled down (Historical and Literary have none), like Military Fiction or some such…

      Choose your categories wisely!

  34. J.A. Jernay says:

    I suppose I should be clear that Heather is a cover artist (not an editor or formatter.). She’s designed covers for some fairly big names, if that matters, and does lots of design work outside of books too.
    Her website is http://popshopstudio.com.

  35. Henry Baum says:

    I’m not sure the conventional wisdom holds true anymore. I’ve seen books with terrible covers sell well, and books with 100 5-star reviews with 1-star reviews that say “riddled with typos.” Of course, it’s better to have a well-designed cover and proper editing, but readers who aren’t too concerned about reading an artful book won’t care about an artless cover. And that seems to describe a fair number of Kindle owners.

    • Hi Henry. If I was to make note of all the exceptions, this post would have been 5,000 words long. But, look at the Top 100. Are crap covers the exception or the rule. I’m betting the exception. And don’t forget that (in certain genres especially) an effective cover is more important than an artful cover (but both is best, obviously). The cover must speak to the genre. With literary, there is a good deal more latitude. But with chick lit, thrillers, romance, mystery, etc. there are certain conventions which should be adhered to (at least somewhat), so the reader pegs the book straight off.

      Having said all of that, we can all think of examples of books with terrible covers, poor editing, bad formatting, or flaccid blurbs that do very well indeed (sometimes with a few of those at the same time). My point is that these things will *likely* hamstring you. You might do everything wrong and get very very lucky, and get enough readers to get beyond all of that to still spread the word about your book excitedly, but I maintain that you increase your chances of getting lucky (dramatically, in my opinion) if you get all the basics right.

      My two shorts are a case in point. I have no doubt that the striking cover for “Woods” is pinning it to the top of the short story charts. I am under no illusions that it’s the best free short story on Amazon right now, or anything close to it. But I would put the presentation up against anyone.

  36. prue batten says:

    I ticked off each point as you raised it, David… but my one sticking point (meaning I am bamboozled every time) is the way to handle intermittent pricing. I’m almost inclined to think it’s an art-form and you either have the ability to play the market or not… rather like a stockbroker. That said, my books surprise. Those I think will have sunk by now (out in print and/or e-book since 2008) end up having little wins every now and then on Top 100 rankings and to be truthful, I ask myself why… and how? They are all priced .99 cents and I rarely push them, just engage on other levels on the social media.
    The blurb bit hits home as well… heaven but it’s hard!
    But covers? My cover designer has such empathy with my stories and is a perfectionist! Maybe that has helped me a lot as well. She is very selective with book cover design, but WOW is all I can say. She’s currently designing my first-ever historical fiction cover for release in February. She is:

    http://www.saltstudio.com.au/

    and people may be interested in seeing the quality at:

    http://amzn.to/wkUB8l

    Many thanks for the usual informative post.

    • Pricing is tricky, for sure. And I think only Amazon have a real handle on it. We simply don’t have enough data, but we got to work with what we have. I will say this. 99c is a tough game. You need to be selling at great volumes to add all those 35c royalties into something substantial. Some people have had great success at that price point, but there is very limited room at the top for the kind of numbers you need at that price.

      Have you tried higher prices? If it was me, I would take the one with the most commercial appeal and/or the most (good) reviews, and try $2.99 for a while. Maybe the results will surprise you. Maybe you could go even higher again.

  37. Nice post! I agree with what you’ve stated here, but also agree with one other comment about that fact that “it takes time”. It most certainly does.

    There are many things/factors beyond our control, but great writing, great covers, and the next project are all ours to own/embrace.

    Best,
    Katherine

  38. Mike Cooley says:

    Great post! Useful links!

    One thing I would add (and maybe I shouldn’t even say this out loud) is I think it helps to price you ur books higher when they are free (so people see more of a discount).

    I also think novels should be $4.99 and can sell at $4.99.
    I only use 99 cents for very short work and I think it is a good foot-in-the-door technique (where the door is someone’s kindle).

  39. laurieboris says:

    Fantastic stuff. I have some work to do. Thank you!

  40. aricmitchell says:

    Editing is so vital, but there are some things that writers can do to improve their chances without resorting to expensive edits. First, it is important to know you’re a good writer, and to be honest with yourself when you’re not. Learning to become your own worst critic AT THE RIGHT TIME is important. You don’t want that bastard running off at the mouth while you’re trying to hammer out draft one, but you want to give him your full undivided attention in the rewrite stages.

    The second thing you can do to avoid paying a lot in editing charges: write shorter books. I understand I’m not the everyman here, but I’m also not so unique as a reader that I’m in a class by myself. I don’t much like reading longer books on a Kindle, but I do love using them to read. For longer works, I still like the paperback.

    (I’m off hardbacks.)

    As a result, I’m willing to lap up anything affordably priced and well-written on the Kindle. Recently, I discovered Guido Henkel’s Jason Dark series and loved it. From what I can tell, his books run about 25,000 words give or take. If you’re good with the English language, then it’s likely you can do most of the editing yourself and deliver a quality product at that length. I know I can. I turned out a 20,000-word short to a print publication two years ago, and didn’t have anyone look at it before submitting. It performed well with the readers, and I’m in the process of getting a cover commissioned for it to release as a $1.99 title by the end of the month. But let me reemphasize. Editing is important. I was brutal with that sumbitch before sending it off.

  41. Thank you for the great post full of valuable information for those of use thinking about self-publishing our first book. I will keep a link to this one around for future use.

    Thanks for writing

    Tina

  42. John Hansen says:

    Thanks for having such a great blog!

  43. I haven’t self published, but i plan to. So, reading this is a good reminder of the things to look at as I start. Thanks!

  44. Pingback: Self-Publishing Review | Blog | Book Sales Aren't Everything

  45. CJ Parmenter says:

    Hi David, another great post – all of the information presented here ties in beautifully with the content of Let’s Get Digital. Of the two books I’ve read so far on becoming an indie publisher, yours was the first, and I consider it instrumental in helping me draw up the blueprints for my new writing career. You are a fantastic mentor.

    If you wouldn’t mind me asking, what is the viability of publishing short stories (or small collections) on Amazon as a way to try and build up a fund for publishing a novel-length work once it is finished? I’m just at the beginning of my research (as I near the completion of my first draft), and it isn’t clear whether or not Amazon still has “Amazon Shorts,” or whether this avenue is even available to authors who haven’t already published a longer work through them. Could you elaborate on how you got Lost in the Woods out there on Kindle, and in what sequence?

    • Hi CJ, and thank you.

      There are too many variables to give you a simple answer. It depends on what your publishing costs for that novel would be, what the costs of putting out the stories are, what price you sell at, how many you sell etc. etc. I like reading short stories, writing them, and publishing them. Others don’t bother with them so much because they rarely sell at levels anything close to longer work. I’m glad I cut my teeth publishing shorts, though, because I made some mistakes that would have been very frustrating if it was my novel, rather than a low-volume 99c title.

      I have published two short story singles at 99c each. They don’t make a lot of money, but they have covered costs. But I see them as a low cost way for readers to try my work (in terms of both time and money). I think they will sell better once I get a lot more out and start bundling them into collections. I need to spend some time on that this year, now that the novel is finally out.

      And they are great for promo too. When I made them free on Amazon, I got 12,000 downloads in just over 2 days. Each one of those shorts has a sample of my novel at the back.

      But using shorts to make enough money in enough time to pay for publishing your novel? I think that’s going to be hard. I certainly recommend publishing them. The more titles you have out, the more ways readers have of finding you and your books. As I said, I publish singles at 99c, and I plan to bundle collections of 5 at $2.99 and collections of 10 at $4.99. That approach works for me because my sister does my covers. I don’t think it’s viable for most writers to publish single shorts and use a professional designer to do the cover – so you have to come up with another solution.

      You might want to start off with a collection, then if the shorts are doing well – or you have a cheap solution for covers – you can spin them off as singles too.

      I put “If You Go Into The Woods” out in early May last year, and published “Transfection” towards the end of that month. I released “Let’s Get Digital” in July, then “A Storm Hits Valparaiso” in December.

  46. J.D.Hughes says:

    As always, I am astounded by your energy, David. When do you get the time to write?

    Whatever, thank you for that energy and the road map you continue to provide for the rest of us.
    Your novel deserves to be a success, just for that guidance. Although I think you are being unduly hard on yourself when you believe that 10k sales is disappointing :)

    • Oh, I just cut back on the unnecessary stuff: eating, washing, sleeping :)

      And if I had sold 10k books, I would have a mariachi band following me around all day. Those were free downloads! Nice, but no paycheck.

      • J.D.Hughes says:

        I know where you can get a cheap Mariachi band. They are all ex-miners, but with a natural feel for rhythm created by drunken brawls on Saturday night in Barnsley town centre. They will double as bodyguards or do the full monty for a small extra fee.

        A pity about the downloads, but it beats my 213 free. You are destined for the big dosh you deserve after spending 5 years writing your novel. Incidentally, I like your opening in Valparaiso a lot. Literature is a hard sell, though.

      • I used to live in Bradford (long story). If Saturday night in Barnsley is anything similar, this Mariachi band sound just right. I don’t think spending five years writing a novel qualifies me for anything other than a crash course in how to write quicker, but if someone wants to throw big dosh my way, it would be rude to say no.

  47. Hi David,
    Still disagree about price. I think you should be selling at $7.99. But what I really want to talk about is generating word of mouth. I have Chilean friends who fled the Pinochet regime. Other friends have travelled extensively in South America and Cuba. How do you reach such potential buyers around the world? Here is a start. I promise to buy tomorrow from B&N to read the book to see if I can recommend it to my friends. I don’t think a general approach to generating WOM is going to work. We need to target. How do we do it? I have few answers but we need to discuss this.
    Cheers and good luck with the novel.
    Bernie

    • Catana says:

      It’s already pretty well established that anything over 4.99 is going to hurt most self-published writers. At 4.99, I’m seriously considering Storm. At 7.99, I’d just forget about it. There’s too much good writing out there for me to spend that kind of money on one book, which may turn out to be a read-once.

      • You have an hour or two left to get it at $2.99! I just changed the price back to $4.99 after the sale, but it *usually* takes an hour or two to filter through.

        And yeah, I think $7.99 is a stretch at this stage. My aim is to maximize revenue and keep building up to a point where I can make a living out of this. I don’t think $7.99 will maximize my revenue. I watch Amazon’s pricing (as they have more data than anyone). The only people they put at that price point are their very biggest names (like Barry Eisler). I seriously doubt I could pull it off. I’m happy with $4.99 for now. I could try higher in the future, but I’m more likely to experiment with lower prices for now (or limited time sales like this one).

    • Hi Bernie,

      If I knew the answer to that…

      I hope you enjoy the book. I have a couple of ideas for reaching South American aficionados, and I’ll be trying a few different things. It’s not easy though…

      Dave

      P.S. Thanks for your support. I hope you enjoy the book.

  48. Jen says:

    Glad to find your site. I’ve been doing a lot of research on the self publishing route and would like to go down it. I’m not quite ready yet and am still reading whatever I can from people who have done it successfully. Thanks for the info.

  49. Sam Torode says:

    These were all great ideas. For people with multiple books– make sure you have an “also by the author” page up front with hyperlinks to all your books.

    Pricing seems to work differently for every individual book and author, so there’s no one-size-fits-all formula. But in general, I think $2.99 is the max a new/indie author should charge. Though I don’t have data to back it up, I’ve seen indie books fall into oblivion after price raises above $3. For example, “Flat Out Love” was in the top 20 for a long, long time at $2.99, and since the price went up to $3.50 it has fallen into the thousands. Konrath’s “The List” also dropped from the top 20 after he raised the price from $2.99 to $3.99.

    Personally, I keep my book at $2.99 and then drop the price to 99 cents when I need a boost (did this yesterday, for example, and sales picked up immediately). This has worked consistently. Also, I don’t pay more than $2.99 for the e-books I buy (unless it’s a non-fiction book with information that’s valuable to me, in which case I’ll go up to about $8– anything over that, I order a used hardcopy).

    • Ah, the black arts of pricing. My only firm belief with pricing – aside from not pricing anything above $4.99 – is that you should be flexible. It sounds like you have found the sweet spot for your book (which I have seen flying up the charts on quite a few occasions), and that you are doing very well with limited time sales. I think that’s a great approach.

      But I also think that sweet spot can vary from genre to genre, from author to author, and from book to book, and that the sweet spot can change over time to (as the demographics in each genre change with each surge of new entrants). I see a lot of self-publishers doing well at higher price points now than, say, six months ago. And I think certain genres – like historical fiction – afford higher prices.

      I certainly don’t know enough to say what the sweet spot for this book is yet. The results from this 2-day sale were pretty good, but I’m also going to return to $4.99 for a while now, and measure that again. But I will be experimenting further in the future.

  50. ABE says:

    David, Have you thought that your primary market is people who speak SPANISH? I read somewhere recently that with Amazon expanding into the Spanish speaking world, there is a dearth of books. I grew up in Mexico – people there don’t read as much English as you would think. The Spanish-speaking world is a completely different one from ours in many ways, but those are the people who would know South American history and find a story set there resonates. I imagine it might be expensive to get it translated unless you can do it yourself (then just have a native speaker read it to catch problems – and watch out for the equivalent of British/US English differences in slang and nouns (truck/lorry, bathroom/loo type)).
    But especially because there are relatively few, adding a Spanish version (and thus a new release) might save all the work you did. And give the book even more ‘legs’.

    • I’ve been thinking along these lines since I first came up with the idea back in 2006.

      The upfront cost of a professional translator is – right now, for me – prohibitive. However, another writer came up with a pretty clever scheme where he pays nothing upfront, and shares the profits with his translators. You can read more about that here: http://davidgaughran.wordpress.com/2011/09/19/share-the-wealth-a-radical-solution-to-translation-costs/

      Under the same system, I am getting one of my other books translated into Spanish and French, and talking with an Italian translator about getting this new novel done the same way. I wanted to give my current Spanish translator an opportunity to see if she wants to take on the project first, but I have had others express an interest, and, either way, I hope to move forward with that soon.

      If there are any translators out there interested in working under a profit-sharing scheme, have a read of the above link, and get in touch if you are interested.

  51. Dave says:

    Dave

    Thanks for the fascinating and detailed overview of your process thus far, great stuff!
    Bushwacker…I like that too. I’m pulling for you bud, have ASHV next on my TBR after I polish off Mainak’s, “Vimana.”

    Last post on the translation aspect is extremely interesting as well and looking forward to hearing about any experiments from you on that.

    Dave

  52. Steven Davis says:

    David -

    I think you forgot to mention a big topic – Title. I think your other titles have been much more enticing and compelling. The headline is always mentioned as being key for copywriting and I’m sure it is a big factor with books as well.

    All my best,

    Steve

    • Good point. That was an oversight.

      I spend a lot of time on titles. And I think all my titles are strong – with the possible exception of my latest book. I’ve never been crazy about that title, but it was the least worst of hundreds I tested out over five years! I could never crack that one satisfactorily, and I’m not sure why. It’s not bad, I just think it’s not as striking as the others – I really like them.

      Sometimes, the title comes before the story, sometimes during, and, on rare occasions, afterwards. There are a number of considerations: how it sounds, if it captures the story or an important element of it, if it fits the genre, if it creates curiosity, how hard it would be to dominate the search results on Google, what else comes up for searches like it on Amazon etc. etc.

      The latter two considerations are especially important for non-fiction, but I think fiction writers should pay attention to them too. If your book has a generic title, or has been used many times before, then people searching for you or your book could quite easily get diverted to a competing title – and then you lose that sale (the worst kind of sale to lose, one you worked for).

  53. somnifer says:

    I’m sorry ‘A Storm’ isn’t doing as well as you’d hoped. I like the title (sounds very epic!), though I’m not sure how to pronounce it. Just my two cents about the cover, since part of your post was about the importance of covers. I’ve been looking at this image since it first appeared on your blog back in late December, and my impression is that, despite the technically good design, this novel looks like the kind of thing my grandfather would read: manly and rugged as heck, old-school, evocative of 1960′s Westerns, and well-researched, but a bit dry. If there’s humour in your writing, I don’t see it in the cover. If there’s sex, I don’t see that either, though the second blurb you posted hints that there might be some. If you have exciting, unpredictable characters, I don’t really see them; based only on the cover, I expect this story to be about a bunch of manly men riding through dust storms and fighting historically accurate battles, with many descriptions of period weaponry. That said, from reading your blog, I have feeling this cover isn’t quite doing ‘A Storm’ justice.

    • It’s really too early to say how “Storm” is doing (or will do). I wouldn’t have brought it up only I was covering this topic, and felt a concrete example would be far better than talking abstractly.

      I really should have stressed the importance of patience.

      Regarding the cover, I don’t quite have the same take as you. However, I never dismiss comments like this, but file them away and see if it’s a once-off reaction, or whether there is something more to it. The cover for “Transfection” was quite divisive at the time, but it turned out my target market (SF fans) were quite fond of it. I like this cover, but I will keep your comments in mind.

  54. Another fabulous post, Mr. Gaughran. Thank you for all you do for the indie community!

    As it happens, I am a Title Consultant Extraordinaire… I often come up with good titles well before I’ve written the book. I have more titles than manuscripts!

    I have no doubt that your “Storm” will create some thunder soon (I’ve already bought it and started — really enjoying it — so I can’t take advantage of your special price). I like the title, but if you find yourself reconsidering at some point down the road, here are some other ideas:

    A BLOODY REVOLT
    HIS FORMER MASTERS
    A SECRET ARMY
    MERCENARIES, SLAVES AND PROSTITUTES

    Of course, there’s always the genre question, and creating a title that telegraphs the story you are selling…

    Do let us know when it begins selling gazillions, so we can celebrate with you. May it happen soon!

  55. Pingback: Weekly Roundup: January 20, 2012

  56. Hi David,
    What a hassle to order your book through B&N, but I did promise. It said I had to have a billing address in the US. Anyway, the upshot is I now have a place on Park Avenue New York and they accepted the credit card payment.
    I am sure the read will be worth it.

    • I’m sorry you had to branch out into the US property market just to get a copy of my book, but at least prices are a little better than they were five years ago. Next time I’m in New York, I’ll look you up :)

  57. Good article, good advice.
    Self published authors of Historical Fiction may be interested to know that the Historical Fiction Society prints online reviews of HF novels. Until recently these have primarily been US books because it is expensive to send books from the UK to the US review team so I have volunteered to be UK editor.
    So if you are a UK author with a well written (and well produced!) historical fiction novel published in the UK & would like to submit it for review by the HNS see here for details: http://www.historicalnovelsociety.org/hnr-online-guidelines.htm
    also: if you are looking for a good graphics designer for your cover (or booktrailer) I highly recommend Cathy Harmon Helms of http://www.avalongraphics.org.

    http://www.helenhollick.net

    • Hi Helen – this is great. I’ve actually been receiving the Historical Fiction Society newsletter for a few years now. I’ll submit my novel for review immediately – thanks.

  58. David, your insights are wonderfully helpful! Thanks so much.

  59. Lindsay B. says:

    Great post, David. All valid points.

    I think self-published authors tend to be a impatient, too, and it’s not so much that they’re not selling in some cases, but that they’re not selling as much as they’d like. Sometimes it can help to look at the sales rankings of mid-list traditionally published authors in your genre. You might just find that you’re doing as well as they are, if not better. It’s important to remember, too, that, except in rare fluke cases, nobody gets to turn one book into a career. Most authors who make a living at this, traditionally published or otherwise, have in the neighborhood of 10 books out there. So…patience, young Jedi. ;)

    (And, yes, it’s hilarious to me that I’m giving this advice, because I’m as impatient as it gets :D)

  60. How can an author arrange to get a blurb crowdsourced in a Facebook group? Is there a particular group that gets involved in this sort of thing? Thanks in advance for the info.

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  62. You never cease to inspire me! Great post. I’m even bookmarking it for when my novel is completed!

  63. Hi. I have nominated you for the Versatile Blogger Award. I was recently nominated (http://thebeachwriter.com/2012/01/23/a-word-about-an-award/) and have chosen you as one of my 15. Congratulations!

    The rules of this nomination are as follows.

    1. Thank the award-giver and link back to them in your post.
    2. Share 7 things about yourself.
    3. Pass this award along to 15 others.
    4. Contact your chosen bloggers to let them know about the award

  64. Leann says:

    I almost never leave comments, but something in this article struck me, and it’s so rare that I think of something to say when there’s still the chance that someone might hear it, that I can’t resist putting in my two cents about the blurb of your novel. Somebody in the comments suggested that you focus on getting your book translated because many of your potential readers would be spanish speakers. This is reasonable I guess, but english speaking people generally seem to enjoy books set in different countries, so I don’t see why this would be more important for you than for anybody else, because a good book is good no matter what country it takes place in. So it occurred to me that your novel blurb could be even stronger if you found a way to emphasize a big picture emotion or feeling in the story that would make it about more than the historical events or details surrounding it. Maybe the characters are swept away in a story of love, redemption, danger, torn loyalties, (or whatever), as they are embroiled in … etc. Perhaps if you can offer prospective readers a big picture idea of what they are going to get? It would mean being a little more obvious and cliche, but maybe this is the place for that. I know nothing about publishing – I’m still chipping away on my first novel, but I couldn’t resist giving my totally unexperienced opinion. And thank you for your blog. It’s very encouraging to be able to imagine the end point to all this writing. Thank you for sharing!

    • Hi Leann, that comment probably came about because I am already translating an earlier title into Spanish and French, and a book set in South America would certainly be a natural candidate for Spanish translation at the very least.

      With regard to the blurb, it’s certainly not perfect, and I imagine I will change it again (several times probably, I’m only usually happy by the fourth or fifth attempt, and this is the second for this one!). I’ll keep your comments in mind when I have another go at it.

  65. unpub says:

    Brilliant piece and links – wish you’d written it sooner – Book out next week.

  66. Pingback: Self-Publishing: Carnival of the Indies Issue #16 — The Book Designer

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  68. Jennifer says:

    Book covers and interior layout…. 20 years experience in graphic design…. thanks for giving me the space here! JenniferToughDesign.com

  69. Pingback: Best of the Web Book Marketing Tips for the Week of February 6, 2012 - Author Marketing Experts, Inc.

  70. So much great stuff in this post, and in the comments.

    My absolute favorite book on self-editing is “The 10% Solution,” by Ken Rand (Fairwood Press). It’s *short* (paperback is 63 pages) and full of editing advice you can put into practice immediately (for instance, a great list of keywords to search for that can highlight weak writing). I buy a copy for every writer and editor who works for me, and I keep extras around for gifts.

    I hope you won’t mind me pointing out (editor; can’t help it) that in the new blurb (which I LOVE) you don’t need the comma after “epic” in the second paragraph.

  71. Yaminatoday says:

    This is a very informative post. Thanks David. And thanks for allowing me to re-post it on my blog.
    One question I have about selling books is how helpful blog hops/tours can be. I only wonder about this because author Terri Giuliano Long, author of “In Leah’s Wake”, posted on my blog about them. After participating in hops and tours she went from a handful of sales in early 2011 to over 45,000 sales six months later (read her story – http://yaminatoday.com/2011/11/05/the-long-winding-road-to-publishing-success/ )

    I know this isn’t ALL that she did, but blog hops and blog tours seem like a great way to help indie authors get their titles out into the public’s eye.

    Any thoughts from anyone? Have you done blog hops/tours yourself, David?

    • Hi Yamina,

      I think blog hops/tours can be great. I’ve done plenty, but only ones I have organized myself (i.e. paid nothing for them). They certainly boosted blog readership, sales, Twitter followers, the works. Obviously, the bigger the blog, and the better you tailor your post for their audience, the better the results.

      I think this is one of these situations where if money is no object (and/or your free time is extremely limited) then paying someone to organize it for you can be a good idea. But really, I think you can achieve pretty much the same results with a little bit of elbow grease. To promote my last book, I just put an open invitation on my blog to guest post for anyone. I got loads of requests, and fulfilled virtually all of them. They all got new, original content too, which I think helped. I could have just recycled older blog posts, and that certainly would have cut down on the time commitment, but I enjoyed it.

      Dave

  72. Judy Cullins says:

    David, As a long time book coach, I applaud your tips in this blog, especially the cut to the chase tip to not put too much upfront between your story and your reader. I’m the author of “Write your EBook or Other Short Book–Fast!” on Amazon and my site. In ch. 3 I write about the 9 pre-marketing steps to take BEFORE you start writing chapters. Amazing how many writers don’t consider the business side of books before they launch. For non-ficton writers, Ch 2′s “fast writing blueprint” provides structure which most writer don’t think about ahead of time, so their audience may not finish them and recommend their book. Too bad to not use your 24/7 sales team help.

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  76. SteveA says:

    Hi David,
    I like the sound of the book, but I think there’s a flaw in the blurb below ie there is nothing connecting the two sentences. As written you make it sound as if the second sentence expands on an idea introduced in the first, but it doesn’t. It’s two separate ideas bolted together with ‘but’.

    “Catalina Flores de la Peña’s tongue got her in more trouble than any other part of her body, even though there were far more likely candidates. But when a storm rolls into her sleepy port town, she finds herself embroiled with a gang of adventurers, mercenaries, and prostitutes on a journey to free South America from the Spanish Empire.”

    How about the following?

    “When a storm rolls into her sleepy port town, Catalina Flores de la Peña’s finds herself embroiled with a gang of adventurers, mercenaries, and prostitutes on a mission to free South America from the Spanish Empire. In the past Catalina’s tongue has got her into more trouble than any other part of her body (even though there were far more likely candidates); this time she’ll need it to get her out.”

    Just a suggestion…

    • SteveA says:

      Actually, that last bit’s not up to much: ‘get her out’… Perhaps ‘this time she’ll need it to save her skin.’?

      I’ll stop now…

  77. J.D.Hughes says:

    This is not strictly to the point, David, but how can I get my short stories listed free on Amazon? They insist on charging for them even though I have them free on Smashwords. I’ve tried the ‘cheaper elsewhere’ button on Amazon, but it seems to have little effect.

  78. Pingback: 22 People Aspiring Authors Should Follow

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  80. Soledad Steele says:

    I was able to find a website that allows you to list your kindle book, whether paid for free and doesn’t cost an arm and leg. It helps for advertising to get you off the ground. I got my book as the feature for the week.

    http://bookworkempire.webs.com/

  81. David Mc says:

    Thanks David
    I tend to sit with my hands under my rear end too much. You have shown me for the millionth time one has to want something
    enough to stay focused and learn something from every single attempt. My mother was a published poet and my brother a well known story teller but to make a living is about focus focus focus.
    Best to you from
    yet another Irish- David McCormack (Derived from Mccanna back in 1800′s ) All good sharing returns in one form or another to origin or a descendent. An immutable law.

  82. Pingback: Divas Recommend:Why Is My Book Not Selling? - Write Divas | Write Divas

  83. Adam Dickson says:

    Nice post, thanks. It’s a tough job being a self-published author, but I really believe you have to take the long term view. And, to boost your flagging spirits, remember Napoleon Hill’s motto, ‘A quitter never wins, and a winner never quits’. Keep smiling.

  84. josois says:

    Another great post and so timely too. As a new self-published author it’s been challenging to say the least to get my book noticed let alone get a sale. I like the fact that you’re so honest with your own successes and failures. It’s really made me rethink my approach in publishing and marketing my book. From your blog and your book, “Let’s Get Visible,” I’m soaking in all the insightful information you drew from your observations and others who have keen insight into making Amazon’s system work in our behalf as self-publishers. I hope to make a better more prepared 2nd launch for “Before the Legend,” with the information I’m learning now.

  85. wakeandbakecookbook says:

    Hello! My name is corinne and I’m very new to the self publishing scene. I just wrote a cannabis cookbook called wake & bake: a cookbook. it looks lovely in person and the retailers that we brought it to said we should charge close to 30 bucks. We adjusted our price and no one is buying online. We had two orders on our launch date dispite a lot of new followers and some press coverage. I don’t want to drop the price so quickly because it isn’t overpriced and I don’t want people to think we’re panicking so soon in the game. I started a blog which I submit to reddit. we’re engaged with our target market on facebook and we have a free download day on kindle tomorrow. I sent out press releases and we’ve had about 5 write ups this week. I think it’s a fun and useful book, but nobody’s really buying (fyi that was totally not whining). I’d love your feedback. thank.you so much for the useful information and please forgive any typos… my thumbs are too big for these tiny buttons. http://www.wakeandbakecookbook.com

  86. Pingback: 0 to 5 and 5 to 500: Starting a Self Publishing Career, Part 2 (5 to 500) - Zoe York

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