Adventures In Self-Publishing Part 2: From Art To Commerce

On the evening of September 10th, I submitted my novella to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo. By the next morning, it was live (but only at Amazon--more on that later). The Last Safe Place: A Zombie Novella has a handsome little 'buy' button next to it, and I get reports on how many copies have been sold, and someone I don't know posted to my Twitter account that the preview text got her to buy it. 

How cool is that? 

So, what's it about? Glad you asked! 

It's been two years since the outbreak of a plague that turned New Yorkers into flesh-eating corpses. The city’s population has dwindled to three hundred refugees on Governors Island, a park and former military outpost situated in Upper New York Bay, a few hundreds yards from Manhattan and Brooklyn. The survivors struggle with supply shortages and flaring tempers, but the monsters they call ‘rotters’ can’t swim. The island isn't comfortable, but it's safe.

That sense of safety is shattered when Sarge, a former cop and the island’s head of security, comes face to decomposing face with a rotter while on an early-morning patrol. There's no conceivable way for the creature to have gotten on the island. What’s worse is that its stone-like skin makes it much tougher to kill.

Faced with the prospect of an evolving enemy, and desperate to find antibiotics for his dying wife, Sarge has to get into Manhattan, do some recon, forage for supplies, and get out—without drawing the attention of the millions of rotters that now roam the city.

It's really, really satisfying to see a story through to completion. I've written two novels--one that was rubbish, one that needs a lot of work. And here's a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. It feels done, and I'm happy to lock it into a static state and move on. I'm high on accomplishment, and that high is pushing me to produce more work, which is a great place to be. 

At the same time, self-publishing feels like a half measure. Not to say I regret doing it, or that I think I should have gotten a traditional deal for it (it's a novella, I doubt anyone would have taken it). But people have been congratulating me on it. My mom even read it (making me regret how many times I used the word fuck). I feel like I accomplished something... but something worthy of celebration? I don't know.  

This isn't to denigrate self-publishing, or to say I don't stand behind the story I told. But I can't help how I feel, and it would be dishonest of me to say otherwise. So many emotions, is the thing. 

What's next?

Now, the artistic end of this endeavor--the writing, the editing, the rewriting, the fear I didn't serve my story--all of that is over. The story is gone from me and in the hands of the readers. People ask me questions and I can just shrug and say: Well, what did you think that meant?

This brings us to the business end of things, into selling this thing. Because I wouldn't have much to talk about here if I didn't do that. So, I figured I'd start with where the book is, why, and my plans for the future (because I'm very serious about this being an experiment in self-publishing--one for all of us to talk about and learn from). 

The eBook is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo. Both iBooks and Smashword are--I hear--a pain to deal with, and the three stores I'm in have apps for iOS. I'm giving some thought to putting out a print-on-demand edition through Amazon's CreateSpace (a number of people have asked me to print out the book because they don't have eReaders), but I'm not committed to the idea. We'll see. 

As for this column, I plan to talk about the process of marketing the book. I'll tell you what I'm doing to sell it, and at the end of each column, I'll post my latest sales numbers. I'll note if anything in particular led to a sudden rush in sales, but for the most part, we should be able to draw some conclusions about what's moving the needle and what's not.

I'm also setting the goal that I won't spend any money on this (besides what I spent on the cover, designed by Propmaven Media, if you're in the market). I may experiment with Goodreads or Facebook ads at some point in the future, but honestly, I don't want to drop a grand on a blog tour, and I don't want to be one of those people who pays for reviews. I want to see how much mileage I can get for free. I market books for a living at MysteriousPress.com, so I know a lot of the basics anyway.  

Mistakes

Before I get into what I've been working on thus far, I wanted to mention one of the big mistakes I've made already. I posted the book with three freaking typos in it (that I've been made aware of so far).

As I mentioned in the last column, instead of paying for an editor, I asked my friends and colleagues to read it and give me their thoughts, and offered to read their work or do something writerly in exchange.

It was a little harder than I thought. A bunch of people who offered to help ended up not being able to (and no hard feelings there, life gets in the way). I split the editing up into two rounds--for content, and then proofreading. But after I coded the eBook, my wife found a logical inconsistency, which necessitated more changes, which opened the door for more typos. And I couldn't help but tinker with things here and there--more typos, more proofreading required. The novella needed at least one more good, solid read before it went live. 

Shortly after the book went live, my wife's friend notified me to the three typos--two grammatical errors, and one factual error (the model of gun used by the narrator doesn't have a safety).  

Maybe hiring an editor for the final edit wouldn't have been such a bad idea. Not to say I'm unhappy with the work my friends did. I got some amazing suggestions--and a great deal of encouragement. But having a professional set of eyes on it might have obviated the blind panic and rush upstairs to my office to rework the eBook file. 

And I'll try to demonstrate a little more patience next time, always a fault of mine. 

C'mon, Barnes & Noble

I posted the novella to Amazon, Kobo and Barnes & Noble at 11 p.m. on September 10th. By the time I woke up, it was available on Amazon, and the day after that, it was up on Kobo. Barnes & Noble took 72 hours just to approve my account. Then they said it would be another 72 hours before the book was for sale. The entire time I imagined a bunch of Barnes & Noble execs sitting in a room, gnashing their teeth and wondering why Amazon was gutting them. 

What I did thus far: 

The book will have been live for more than a week when this column hits. So here's what I did to promote it: 

  • Three Facebook posts, three Twitter posts (I have 540 Facebook friends and 1,550 Twitter followers)
  • A Facebook and Twitter post from LitReactor (7,480 Facebook likes and 6,100 Twitter followers)
  • Asked the alumni association of my college to post a link on its Facebook page (2,900 Facebook likes)
  • Set up a Goodreads author page
  • Submitted to the Kindle Singles program for consideration
  • Set up an Amazon author page
  • Hooked up with the 1000 Zombies project (head of of the program has 30,000 Google+ followers)

These numbers are rough and doesn't take into account a million different factors, but for the sake of a general discussion, that's an audience of about 50,000 people. And as you'll notice from the sales tally below, I reached barely a fraction of that audience. 

Lesson one of self-publishing: Sales don't just happen. You have to make them happen. 

I'm not surprised that Kobo is at zero (they've got a nice self-pubbing interface but they're just not a big player). I'm a little surprised at the low number from Barnes & Noble, but at the same time, they don't seem to put a great deal of interest into online sales (Amazon's site is amazing at hooking you up with new reading material and making sure you've found what you're looking for; Barnes & Noble, not so much). 

As for Amazon--they're the big guy in this game, so that's where the biggest number sits, and that's not surprising at all. They also offer some fairly current sales reporting, and one of the toughest parts of this process so far is to not sign onto their backend two dozen times a day, to see if I've sold any more copies.

Sales tally:

Discussion time

There's still a lot here I'm figuring out, obviously, and a lot more I have planned, but I think I've rambled enough for this month. If anyone has any questions, please ask. If you think I'm doing something wrong or have some suggestions or anything really, speak up. I'd love to get a bit of a discussion going.

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Comments

wickedvoodoo's picture
wickedvoodoo from Mansfield, England is reading stuff. September 20, 2012 - 8:11am

I bought a copy to read on my phone when I am working. Don't have a kindle but the app works okay enough for short stories and novellas.

I like the idea of this column, because I am interested/curious about self publishing. I'm wondering, why no commitment to the print-on-demand option? What's to lose?

 

Rob's picture
Class Director
Rob from New York City is reading at a fast enough pace it would be cumbersome to update this September 20, 2012 - 8:21am

@wickedvoodoo, thanks for the download! I hope you dig it. As for the POD option... it's a time thing--I'm already spending a lot of time on the marketing end of this thing, I want to go back to just writing for a little while. But I'm sure eventually I'll do it.

I'm pretty sure you don't have to pay any kind of initial fees to have a POD edition made, but I need to check that, too.

C. Patrick Neagle's picture
C. Patrick Neagle September 20, 2012 - 8:35am

I just began this same process, having spent two weeks wrestling on the formatting of my essay collection in order to get it right for Amazon (I know, I know: essay collection, right?). My biggest problem was that I was using Open Office rather than Word and the conversions were wonky. I finally had to send the bare bones document to a friend of mine who had Word and who had also started experimenting with e-publishing. Shortly thereafter I went out and downloaded Word myself so I wouldn't have to outsource. Now, the formatting flies (sort of -- formatting never flies). I did the cover myself and I'm pretty proud of it; it's gotten a few nice comments, too.

My marketing so far has consisted of Facebook, Twitter, Amazon and Smashwords author pages, and word-of-mouth. I've only had the book live for a week and have sold 5 on Amazon and 1 on Smashwords (that one was my mom, though). It hasn't uploaded from Smashwords to B&N or the other Smashwords Premium outlets, though it's approved.

The essays originally appeared in a weekly newspaper column (small newspaper, small column) and on my blog, so I have a built-in audience there that I'm hoping to tap soon.

So that was my process. But I also have to agree with you on the dichotomy of e-publication. I feel great that it's out there (with more to come now that I've slid down the far side of the learning curve), but I feel a bit like it's cheating by not going the traditional publishing route -- or that I'm cheating myself. Publishing this way feels like it lacks validation, even though, like you, since these were essays, it's very doubtful they would have found a home among traditional publishers.

What I'm certain of, though, is that if I'd put up a novel (forthcoming, btw), I would have felt the same way, but that I would have been wrong. The forefront of any substantial change is a sometimes painful, often confusing, and an always disorienting place to be. Publishing is changing. Would I like to see my books on a bookshelf at the local book seller and know that it's also on similar bookshelves around the country/world? Absolutely. But that's because that's the writing paradigm I have known all my life. Our validation should come from our readers and our own sense of fulfilment, not necesarily from a gatekeeper (though certainly nothing wrong with being validated by a gatekeeper, too). "Should," but doesn't mean that it's an easy shift of perspective to make.

On with the shameless plug: my first collection of 29 humorous, travel-sized essays on travel, Essays in Travel and Humor Vol. 1: Wanderer (with pictures!) is available on Amazon and at Smashwords -- and hopefully soon at B&N. My blog is at goblinbrook.wordpress.com

Rob's picture
Class Director
Rob from New York City is reading at a fast enough pace it would be cumbersome to update this September 20, 2012 - 9:00am

@Patrick, it does feel a little like cheating, doesn't it? But also, quite a bit of fun. What's your experience been like, working with Smashwords? I heard they're a pain and not worth it.

Ryan Noir's picture
Ryan Noir from New York, NY is reading Tropic of Cancer September 20, 2012 - 10:53am

Rob,

While I really appreciate your sharing of your experience, I can't help but criticize you for your editing process and writing off markets because they're a 'pain'.

I'm actually kind of shocked that you're openly admitting to content editing your own work, as a professional content editor. Doesn't that, in some way, tell all other writers that it's no big deal to content edit your own work with your subjective, and deeply invested perspective? Wouldn't that mean that at some point, when ebooks inevitably take over like that have in the music industry, your paying profession will be rendered useless?

ePublishing is plagued by unedited writing, and I feel strongly that you should have ponied up the money to have an objective editor manage your manuscript. elance.com has scores of editors eager for assignments. You get to post the project and interview as many editors as you want before you pick the one most suited to your needs in both experience and price. I picked mine from over 50 resumes and she's has both an MA in English Lit and an MFA in Creative writing in addition to 10 years of field experience. In an economy where everyone's hurting, you get people branching out to freelance, and elance editors are hungry.

My novel is in final stages of content revisions and having had her, I'll never publish something without at least one paid editor looking at my work. I paid $500 for my 106,000 word novel for both types, Content and Line. That $500 is my peace of mind knowing when I hit that submit button, my book is the best it could have possibly been. I may even have a second professional editor do a second round of line edits.

Your friends aren't going to spend the time analyzing character neuance and consistency. It's an arguous process and I don't care how much your friends like you, in some regard, however small, they're either jealous or annoyed.

Call me a pessimmist, that's okay but there's a reason it takes so long to publish a book, other people work on them, not just offer suggestions arbitrarily or point our where you misused a comma, but deconstruct the work down to it's core essence and find out if it's made of rock.

I'll also say that the so called 'pain to work with' companies are still a market none the less. If you mean iBooks is a pain to work with because you need an isbn, why wouldn't you want to have your book indexed in the first place. It's like $100 for one or $250 for 10, which is more than most people ever need, but a much better value, and you have them lying around when you need them. Apple commands the tablet market, and not all those users download kindle since ibooks is already attached to the account they've set up with Apple. Though not the most sought out ereader, tablet users are still important readers to capture. And, from what I read, Apple's commission rates are on par or better than amazon. I think Kobo would be a pain to work with because when you promote your book, everyone would be like 'what's a kobo'.

 

I promise, I'm not trying to harrass you. I'm really sorry if it's coming off like that. I just feel like if you're a pro baseball player, you wouldn't show up without your glove, it'd be a handicap. The same stands for editing. I'm annoyed not at you but at the degraded standard of excellence ebooks allow authors.

Now that I've been a complete ass, I'll go buy and read your novella.

sal79parody's picture
sal79parody September 20, 2012 - 11:21am

Ryan Noir,

I wouldn't be so hard on Rob, considering you haven't read the novella. I think he was using the resources he had available at the time, and, as he said, is considering this an "experiment." And having used a "reputable" editor with the same credentials you cited above, I know it doesn't always mean a whole lot.

I would recommend reading the novella before offering your critique. And two typos is not a big deal. I'm reading The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides right now, and I've noticed far more than two typos. Before that, Stephen King's new book had quite a few. Every book has them. It's a matter of mitigating them. There is no such thing as a perfect book. Sorry.

Now when your perfect book hits Amazon, please let us know, so we can all go critique it and let you know whether it has any typos or inconsistencies.

 

Rob's picture
Class Director
Rob from New York City is reading at a fast enough pace it would be cumbersome to update this September 20, 2012 - 11:26am

@Ryan, my decision to go without editing was my own. I've been very clear, in both installments of these columns, that this is an experiment. I'm trying different things to see if they work. Some might, some won't. 

The people who edited this work are writers themselves. My wife has a Master's degree in English literature, and is a fantastic editor. So it's not like I took this to a bunch of people who don't know how to read and comment on a work. Is their viewpoint going to be altered by their relationship with me? Maybe. Again, experiment. 

As it was only a novella, amounting to about 50 typed pages, and not a full-length work, I thought it would be an interesting chance to take--done for the sake of the experiment, and with full faith in the people I worked with. 

I could have paid hundreds (or thousands) for a professional proofread and typos still could have gotten through. It happens. Print books end up with typos. Am I happy, or proud? Nope. I made mistakes, but I owned up to them, fixed them, and carried on. 

As for the other sales sites--buying an ISBN isn't the only reason I don't want to go through iBooks. It's not easy to get an account and upload a book to them, and I don't care to spend the time if there are three sites (Amazon, B&N and Kobo) that are dead simple (despite taking forever, B&N is simple enough to use).

In addition, there are Kindle, Nook and Kobo apps for iOS, so even if you only have Apple devices, you can still read the book. My mom has an iPad and she read it just fine. 

As to your point on iBooks. 

Apple commands the tablet market, and not all those users download kindle since ibooks is already attached to the account they've set up with Apple.

Apple may command the tablet market but they're barely a blip on the eBook market. iBooks makes up for 2.2 percent of the sales through my publishing company. That's dismal. Considering everything I've heard about dealing with them has been negative--on top of the fact that I'll be forced to buy an ISBN--I don't think all that's worth it, just to sell what will probably amount to a handful of copies. 

Kobo may only account for 1.8 percent of sales, but considering it took 10 minutes to set up and the site is incredibly easy to work with, I'll give them a shot. 

I don't feel the need to have this work catalogued. Maybe one day I'll do it but right now that's not what's important to me. What was important was: Bringing something from beginning to end, checking out the digital sales market from the other end. Getting some more practice with marketing and promotion. Then have something to talk about here. 

Finally, at the end of it all, if you're offended or annoyed by what I did, that's on you. Yes, a downgraded standard of excellence sucks, but that's never going to change. People will still post crappy books. I'd prefer to concentrate on my own work than worry about that kind of thing.

I'm not claiming every step I take will be the correct one, or successful. But I wouldn't have done this if I didn't stand behind my work. I'll own up to any mistakes I make, and I will continue to stand behind it. 

Thanks for reading. 

Rob's picture
Class Director
Rob from New York City is reading at a fast enough pace it would be cumbersome to update this September 20, 2012 - 11:31am

@sal79parody, thanks for coming to my defense, but to be clear, I don't think Ryan's point is a bad one. Anything worth doing is worth doing right. Right, though, is endlessly debatable. 

Courtney's picture
Courtney from the Midwest is reading Monkey: A Journey to the West and a thousand college textbooks September 20, 2012 - 11:31am

I'm less inclined to think that a lack of professional editing means poor quality. I've seen some professionally edited work that has horrific grammar and terrible plot holes. And in the truest sense, isn't paying for proofreading cheating? You aren't investing any of your time in learning the tools of the craft, you're just outsourcing it. I can't stand people who love writing but don't take the time to brush up on their fucking grammar and spelling. That's like painting with makeup brushes and paint made from Skittles and shampoo -- it may be pretty, but the technicalities are going to distract from your message.

Coming up with the design and then paying someone else to actually do it for you, in standard grade brushes and paint? I'd call that cheating, personally. Invest in your craft. Learn competency, for God's sake. I'm sorry, but writers with poor grammar are the bane of my fucking existence.

Now, editing for content revision -- I could understand that. But I think Rob's way of doing it, by handing it over to friends, is just as solid as giving it to someone "qualified." I'd much rather have someone who's listened to me blabber about my work for the entire process than an editor I plucked off the streets edit for content -- they at least know what I'm going for.

Rob's picture
Class Director
Rob from New York City is reading at a fast enough pace it would be cumbersome to update this September 20, 2012 - 11:36am

@Courtney, I do think it's absolutely imperative to get your work in front of other people. You're your own worst proofreader. Really. You spend such a long time with a work, you gloss right over the mistakes. Logical inconsistencies disappear because things make sense in your head. You miss typos because you know how the words are supposed to look, and when you're reading for the 500th time, you just float right on by. 

Seriously, I proofread that fucking thing so many times. So many times! And I still missed stuff. And part of my professional career is proofreading. It happens. 

You should absolutely polish your work before putting it out or sending it to an editor, but that outside perspective is valuable and necessary. 

DaveShepherd's picture
DaveShepherd from Calgary is reading No Country for Old Men September 20, 2012 - 12:05pm

@Rob --

1. Smashwords is pretty easy and gets you into the iBook store anyway. Basically, everything needs to be in Times New Roman, font size 12, and you need their "Smashwords" blurb at the front. You can probably find a template for it online. Smashwords gets you into a bunch of different markets... is it worth it? Eh, you'll make the majority of your money from Amazon and Barnes, but an extra couple bucks doesn't hurt.

2. Proofreading for typos: Read everything backwards. Literally start at the end of the book, and read backwards. The sentences won't make sense, which means you'll pay attention to each individual word -- you won't skip over typos because you won't be able to read fast. It's a pain in the ass, but it's effective.

3. Pricing Kobo/Amazon: Make sure to check your pricing on both of these sites, particularly for Europe. The minimum price for the 70% royalty rate changes -- I think in Great Britain in 1.70 on Amazon and 1.99 on Kobo (could be wrong). If you just go with the lowest pricing for each, they'll price match and you'll end up only getting 30% royalty on one of them (ie Kobo's 1.99 book will price match to Amazon's 1.70 book -- which drops your royalty rate substantially for a 29 cent difference).

4. I could use a good zombie story in my life, so I'll pick up your novella today.

Zackery Olson's picture
Zackery Olson from Rockford, IL is reading pretty much anything I can get my hands on September 20, 2012 - 2:36pm

Here's a consideration: by cutting out Smashwords and iBooks from your available places to purchase the novel, you've made it much harder for somebody with a visual disability to read your work.

 

Smashwords offers downloads in PDF format which can then be used on a PC in conjunction with a person's existing screen-reading or screen magnification software. By putting your book in the iBooks store, people with visual disabilities can easily download the book and read it using the screen-reader or screen magnifier that come fully integrated into IOS on iPod Touch, iPad, and iPhone.

 

I know from personal experience, as well as the experiences of others I know, Amazon's accessibility features on the few models of Kindle that actually have them are dismal. Likewise, the accessibility plugins for their Kindle for PC program (a half-assed way of appeasing people with visual disabilities) are pretty much crap.

 

As far as I know, neither Barnes and Noble or Kobo have any accessibility features at all.

 

You may be aware of the National Library Service for the Blind and Visually Impaired and/or the Bookshare organization that provide free and legal access to books in audio and eBook format. What you may not be aware of is that even today the selection given by these two avenues is fairly limited. There are some books--small press publications and self-published works in particular--that may never be available through these two services.

 

Hell, I'm willing to log onto Smashwords or the iBook store and buy a book if I want to read it bad enough. In fact, I just picked up new material from Tom Piccirilli and Charlee Jacob from Smashwords last week. Nothing is more irksome than being able to find a book in eBook format only through Amazon's Kindle store--because their files are proprietary and cannot be used on anything other than a kindle program or device.

 

We blinks are voracious readers of books and--unlike what a certain Presidential candidate would have you to believe--we are not completely unambitious government dependents with no money to spend on books. We're as much a part of many consumer markets as people without visual disabilities.

 

My intent here was to be educational, not antagonistic, so I apologize if I've come off snarky or angry.

 

Best of luck with the next phase of your experiment.

C. Patrick Neagle's picture
C. Patrick Neagle September 20, 2012 - 2:44pm

@Rob: Since I'd rather spend most of my time writing and re-writing rather than formatting, Smashwords seemed a logical choice. Once you get it formatted to their specs (which isn't that hard after the first time: use bookmarks for the Table of Contents), it goes through their meatgrinder and gets sent off to a variety of outlets, including B&N and Apple. The versions might have some problems since it is an automated conversion, but so far I haven't seen anything that would make me want to individually format for each outlet. Anyway, set up an author page and after that, time to head off to write more books and collect the money. Heh.

Also, once it's formatted correctly for Smashwords, all it takes is a few tweaks and it can be saved as .html and sent in to Amazon (which is what I did after making a few revisions that were needed for perfection's sake -- still failed at that, but the quest goes on).

Mind you, I could still discover that Smashwords has fouled something up horribly, but for now the convenience is worth it.

Rob's picture
Class Director
Rob from New York City is reading at a fast enough pace it would be cumbersome to update this September 20, 2012 - 2:44pm

@Dave, thanks for the advice--all of it. I never thought of reading backwards. That's a really good idea. I'm going to start doing that, and see how long I can keep it up before I lose my mind. Which might be quickly. 

@Zackery, you raise a really, really good point. Funny I never thought of it, considering how often I argue the benefits of eReaders (one being the ability to increase font size for readers with some level of visual impairment). I didn't realize the Kindle was not good for that.

I'll think about Smashwords. Clearly there are benefits I didn't think about. But if it turns into a hassle... man, am I gonna complain to you guys. 

Ryan Noir's picture
Ryan Noir from New York, NY is reading Tropic of Cancer September 20, 2012 - 7:04pm

I just reread both parts 1 and parts 2 of your adventure.


I also purchased and read your novella. I like it. I would enjoy reading your novel.


After reading your comments, what would have been helpful to know, is that your wife has credentials, as well as what credentials your writer friends have.


In your first post you said that you would trade editing services with your friends, who are writers, even break up the work. And your second post, you state that your wife found an inconsistency.

I hope said friends are only line editing pieces and parts, because they're not going to be able to fully content edit without understanding the whole piece.


As a featured contributor to litreactor, people are going to read your post, and many are going to think, oh cool, I can have my wife check out my book, and that will suffice because that's what Rob did and everyone seemed okay with it. That's the way I understood it. It wasn't until your comment to me that you stated she holds a Masters in Lit, which would have been abundantly helpful, and I wouldn't have had such scathing things to say.


As for your reply to 'pain markets,' that this is an experiment. I feel like the results may be incomplete and skewed toward free, less painful publishing outlets. Now I'd like to see if your preconceived notions hold true after trying to use them, but I understand the money aspect.

 

My sidebar to my comments is: I really think that it should not be free to publish ebooks right now. I think they should be published without review of content (aside from broken formatting). But I support iBooks and their required indexing. I think it helps deter everyone but the fervent. I’m certainly not advocating for something so daunting as the slush pile of the traditional channel, but something to deter people from putting down their feelings and throwing it up on the internet as a published work without so much as an iota of respect for craft or composition. It perpetuates the argument that ebooks are for amateurs and it keeps agents in their cozy offices, kept warm by burning piles of manuscripts of every real author hopeful who can't rely on ebooks without looking like a complete poseur.

Rob's picture
Class Director
Rob from New York City is reading at a fast enough pace it would be cumbersome to update this September 20, 2012 - 9:46pm

@Patrick, I'm a stickler for format, and I had heard that Smashwords could muck up your formatting. But if your experience with them has been positive--and given what everyone else has been saying about them--I'll give it a shot. Try anything once, you know? 

@Ryan, thanks for reading the novella. I'm glad you enjoyed it. 

Your profile says you're from NYC, so you know how when the subway pulls into the station, the people who push their way on before letting the people off? In a perfect world, those people would stand to the side and let people get off, like orderly members of a civil society. But they don't. And for the most part, there's no changing that

It would be nice if every writer was held to a standard of excellence. It would be nice if this stigma didn't exist. But it does. And charging people to publish books? Vanity publishers thrived before self-publishing--and they still do. Sites like iUniverse, which are blatantly ripping off writers to the tune of thousands of dollars, still exist. Whether or not you charge for anything isn't going to make a difference. Sure, under a free system, there are still going to be more people producing subpar material, but there's no way to make that go away. 

This sounds a little flip--sort of like, 'eh, fuck 'em'--and maybe it is, and I don't mean for it to be like that. Sure, I could quality the credentials of the people reading my work, but I could quality a million other things here, and we'd never accomplish anything. At some point you have to assume your audience can keep up. My experience at LitReactor is, besides a few trolls, the readers and writers here are incredibly savvy. I'm not worried about them being able to keep up, and I would assume that any of them would want to put their best foot forward. 

And no matter how much I explain or qualify, there are still people who are going to barge onto the train. Fact of life. But I reject the notion that anything I said was misleading to anyone who takes writing seriously.

Courtney's picture
Courtney from the Midwest is reading Monkey: A Journey to the West and a thousand college textbooks September 22, 2012 - 9:24pm

I do agree that it's imperative to have someone read it for content, but I like to have people who have seen the story at all its stages read it for content. The idea of having a random person come in at the final stages and check it for me makes me nervous. I don't write to sell, I write to write, and I'm extremely cynical about people who edit for profit. If your book doesn't sell and their name is attached to it, they fail, too. So they're more likely to encourage "marketable" things than someone who knows what you're going for.

Also, proofreading your own work is difficult, but it improves your grammar and mechanics and is possible. Reading backwards is one way; I also line-by-line my own stories because I hate having even one clunky line, and that helps. There are a lot of methods you can try before you find the right one.

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Kirk from Pingree Grove, IL is reading The Book Of The New Sun September 26, 2012 - 8:48am

I didn't want to comment on this till I had the chance to actually read Rob's novella and now that I have (I really enjoyed it, by the way) I would like to add a few things to the conversation.

One of the aspects of this that is most interesting to me is the numbers, particularly as they relate to the amazon sales rank. Prior to buying this, I noticed it was ranked around 75,000 in the Kindle store. The following day I checked it and it was around 36,000. I just now checked and it is around 136,000. So the momentum of sales clearly has a big importance on your ranking.

Now I don't know how many sales happened in the one day between my buying and the 36,000 rank, but I do find it very interesting that what must have been only a few sales made such a dramatic change in it's ranking. Assuming you have the ability to get people to buy your book, this is very promising. It's not a surprise but clearly the bulk of stuff isn't selling much at all.

Rob, I'm curious, have you considered extending the experiment twice more at different price points? Maybe $1.99 and $0.99? Perhaps even eventually do a few days for free to see what happens? Considering that you really seem to have written this off as an experiment, it would be interesting to see what you find there as well.

Additionally, I think you were wise to skip a few of the other distribution places like iBooks. If your experience says that 2% of your sales come from there, you would really have to sell a lot of copies to make it worth your time. At this point, you might have had a single sale on that platform, if you were lucky. Hardly worth the up-front costs, if you ask me.

Lastly, I don't think you mentioned it but what was your internal metric for "success". Yeah, it's great to say "I wanted to sell 100,000 copies" but in reality, what would be the number that would make you happy?

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Rob from New York City is reading at a fast enough pace it would be cumbersome to update this September 26, 2012 - 9:30am

Kirk--I'm glad you enjoyed the novella! Thanks kindly. As to your questions: 

1. It doesn't take a lot of sales to increase your sales rank. I could sell 10 copies and shoot from 90,000 to 30,000 (that's a rough guess, lot of factors involved). That's a lesson I learned at MysteriousPress.com--just because your sales ranking jumped doesn't mean you sold a ton of copies. Even if you get in the top 10, that only means you made a few thousand sales (not to say that's not significant, but you don't have to move heaven and earth to climb the ranks). 

2. I have considered discounting. Free, I don't know... free used to mean you could climb the ranks very quickly and then when you put your pricing back in place, you'd get a huge sales boost, but Amazon ranks free books differently now. Plus, you have to charge at least $2.99 to get the 70 percent royalty return. Any lower than that you only get 35 percent. Still, I will lower the price down to 99 cents at some point to see what happens. 

3. My metric for success? To my mind I already achieved it... people have read the book and enjoyed it, and I feel confident about my ability to finish a work. If I was going to set another metric, I'd say: Buy a lake house in the Adirondacks. That one might be a little far off.