Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Cult of the Self Published

Back when I was in the cult, I had—shall we say—a selective view of the world.  Cults, to no one’s surprise, tend to associate only with like-minded people, and for our part, we spent much of our time preaching our own message to ourselves.  AS such, we were not known to be well-balanced individuals.  Over time, we pile one truth upon another and extrapolated a new truth from that, and then another, and another.  Eventually, our beliefs parted company with the real world, but in our view, we owned the monopoly on reality; it was everyone else who was wrong.
I got out, but have remained wary of evangelists—of any flavor—ever since, which was why I resisted the self-publishing revolution for so long; it smelled like zealotry to me.  Eventually, I joined the uprising, but now that I am on the inside I wonder how skewed my perspective is becoming.
It’s something that merits sober thought, especially as it happened so fast: not too long ago self-publishing was a prohibitively expensive and unattractive option, then it became affordable but still undesirable, and now, of course, it is such a cheap, easy and attractive option that only an idiot would agree to be shackled by a traditional publishing contract .  Or would they?
The arguments against tradition publication are compelling, and based on undeniable truths.  The web—at least the part of it I haunt these days, looking for like-minded people—is  filled with horror stories where publishers play the Big Bad Wolf and the formerly hapless writer is Little Red Riding Hood.  (I suppose this would make self-publishing the Heroic Woodsman, who chops up the wolf in the nick of time and sets Red free to gather her royalties and residuals.)
I don’t doubt the stories—someone is always ready with a “How Things Went Horribly Wrong” epic—and I trust in the logic, but still I wonder if there isn’t another reality out there.  I find it hard to believe that publishers are swirling around the rim of the drain, begging for writer’s to sign with them.  Especially not when the lowest earner on the list of the 53 largest publishing companies (you thought there were only 6, didn’t you) managed, even though they took a small loss, to pull in $232,000,000 in revenue last year.  Admittedly, that’s not a lot by many people’s standards, but they are certainly not headed for the poor house any time soon.  Neither are the top twenty publishers on the list: every one of them (and there were an even number of winners and losers) registered income in the billions.
So why am I being assured they’ll all be bankrupt in a matter of days while we’re all happily self-publishing ourselves onto the Fortune 500 List?  I am certainly no prognosticator of business, or trends, but there must be people out there successfully selling to traditional publishers, who are perfectly happy with their contracts and who don’t feel like a mug for having chosen to not self-publish.
I hope so, because I would like to be one of them someday.
It’s hard to think that way, however, when you find yourself surrounded by people who believe, quite passionately, in a different reality.  And it’s hard to think beyond this reality when the foundation is so undeniably sound: “You’ll maintain creative control” is a prospect almost any writer welcomes, “You’ll keep most of the profits,” is another, but “Most people buy their books online,” is where the reality begins to thin.  Do they?  We like to say they do, and we point to facts and figures that purport to prove it, but how much of that is wishful thinking.  And how much of that wishful thinking is there simply to shore up the next truth: “You can sell on Amazon just as easily as anyone else.”
This is where we part company with reality because that is patently false.  And, paradoxically, if it were true, none of us would sell much of anything.  Imagine what would happen if each one of the millions of self-published writers suddenly acquired the drive and determination of Joe Konrath, the inspired weirdness of Russell Blake and the marketing chutzpah of John Locke?  I’m trying to, but I’m sure even my most radical fantasies fall short.  I do know, however, that none of them would sell many books because readers would not be able to reach beyond the competing babble.  Not that it would matter, because none of them would find the time to write more books, anyway.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a Self-Publishing Denier, and none of this has made me sorry I self-published; I’m just wondering, that’s all.  And seeking balance.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Russell Blake’s Satire Nails It

Self-published authors, I am assured, read a lot of self-published “How To Self Publish” books.  I can believe that; it makes perfect sense, and it is certainly true in my case.  The one I’m reading now, however, is not your typical How-To book.
If Self-Publication is the New Religion, then Joe Konrath is its John the Baptist, a voice crying in the wilderness, showing the way, and Catherine Ryan Howard would be all of the Apostles (with the exception of Judas) rolled into one, who wrote down the story and plotted the path with precise, sometimes poetic, prose.  John Locke, then, would be Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, who took The Message and perverted it into something as titillating and lucrative as hard-core porn, which can only mean that Russell Blake, with his parody, How To Sell A Gazillion Books, is Pontius Pilate, nailing the Holy Grail of Self-Pubbed Riches firmly to the cross of satire.

Now, you can go with that tortured analogy or just believe me when I tell you that this is one funny book, as long as it keeps within its target audience, which is anyone who has tried or is considering self-publication or someone obligated to suffer through the process due to the unfortunate “through better or worse, richer or poorer” codicil in the marriage contract.  But let’s face it, these days that’s about 98% of the population.
I stumbled across Blake’s blog not so long ago; it would have been difficult to find it earlier as he seems to have popped up out of nowhere right around the time John Locke’s book hit the Indie market.  Blake appeared to be your basic middle-aged guy who wrote a book and slapped it up on Smashwords and Kindle, but his blog had a nice professional-esque polish to it and his sporadic posts were highly entertaining.  Blake admittedly read John Locke’s book, and I noted, as he tweeted and tweeted and tweeted, that he was following Locke’s road map but, unlike the pedophile mentioned in my previous post, he was doing it correctly.  His tweets were frequent, but they were funny and they linked, not to his Kindle book page, but to his current post, which provided a bit of entertainment for your trouble.  Once on his website, if you connected with the persona he invented for himself, and happened to notice that he had written a thriller book, you might be interested enough in the Russell Blake persona to buy it.  I wasn’t, but his posts are funny.
He has also pulled a page from Locke’s formula by having both his books reviewed early on.  All the reviews are 5 star and about half are from people who have only review that one book.  Or in this case, both his thriller (5 stars) and his parody (5 stars).  Some of the other reviewers have a handful of non-Blake related reviews (5 stars) that include, (intriguingly) John Locke’s books.  (Before we move on, allow me to confess that my few Amazon reviews are also almost exclusively 5 stars.  If I don’t like a book, I can’t be bothered to review it.  So 5 Star reviewers are not necessarily bad or dishonest, they are just not balanced.)
The fact that some of his reviewers are John Locke crossovers, and the way he is flawlessly following John Locke’s Million Sales instruction manual coupled with his sudden appearance in cyberspace (coinciding, as mentioned above, with the publication of John Locke’s book) and my inability to find anything else out about him leads me to speculate (not believe at this point, but I think the evidence is clearly pointing in this direction) that Russell Blake is John Locke.  My theory is he’s attempting to recreate his success under an assumed name so he can validate his Method, sell a gazillion more books and laugh even harder on his way to the bank (or when he checks his Kindle stats on-line).
Remember, you heard it here first.
But, whoever he is, he wrote a brilliant parody, and if you are one of the many caught up in the self-publishing hype, you might enjoy the way Mr. Blake (or Mr. Locke, as the case may be) punctures the pomposity that is building within the self-pubbing community.
I enjoyed this book.  You mileage may vary.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

A Second Look

There’s been a lot of soul-searching on this blog lately.  That’s okay; it’s what it was originally meant for.  I never imagined this blog to be much-followed, unless a vast supply of people—eager to read about the angst and dead ends that creep into a fledgling writer’s life after the decision to “go pro” is made—suddenly appeared.
The angst and dead-end of the moment revolves around Social Networking and my reluctance to use it for marketing.
I was living happily in denial for a while but, over the past few days happenstance intervened in the form of some relevant link I found myself on the business end of.  These articles, that I never set out to read, led me to the regrettable conclusion that Social Networking is a must.  My reaction to it reminded me of when I was a PC co-ordinator many years ago, removing typewriters and putting computers in their place.  The typists nearly rebelled, refusing to use the new technology.  And it was my job to tell them, it didn’t matter how they felt about it, these were the tools they needed to use in order to do their job.  Their choice was to use the tools or get another job.
So, after a second look, I grudgingly accepted the fact that, like it or not, Social Networking, at this time, is absolutely essential to marketing (may it soon pass), whether you are traditionally published or self-published.  Once I accepted this, I realized that I didn’t object to Social Networking, or Marketing, so much as some of the tactics.
This is where I felt I could safely draw a line.  The tools are a necessity, but how I use them is up to me.  What was stopping me was seeing what other people were doing and me thinking, “What an asshole!” and, unsurprisingly, deciding I didn’t want to do that.
There is a guy I ended up following on Twitter who, every single hour, night and day, tweets a link to his book with a variety of messages that all say the same thing: “Buy my book.  Retweet this.”  Early on, I had a look at his book (you cannot deny this method is effective) and the cover looked as if it was created by a talented eleven-year-old and the book itself, as the single, honest reviewer noted, read like it was written by a child.  The other reviews (and there were many) were all five star raves by reviewers who, oddly enough, had not reviewed any other book.  And to top it off, the guy’s profile picture made him look like a pedophile.
This is not something I want other people to be saying about me.
It now occurs to me that I was looking at it from a negative point of view, and as if I had no control over any of these factors.  All I could see was what I didn’t want to do, not what I could do, not the things I had control over.  So I changed my profile picture (my old one made me look a bit like a pedophile) and developed a workable social networking plan that I could live with.
In a way, going part time at my job in order to provide more time to write was working against me.  It encouraged me to log on to Twitter and/or Facebook (and now, and/or Google +) at 5:30 AM, when my writing day began, and agonize endlessly over what to say, if to say it, who to respond to and, of course, follow endless links until it occurred to me that I was hungry and it was approaching noon.  Each day I had a ToDo list, but I rarely completed every item on it and production fell further and further behind, because there was always tomorrow to get it done.  Except tomorrow I would wake up, log on to Twitter the day would bog down in frustration.
So this weekend I made a schedule.  A realistic one that includes set times to be on line and set goals for each session.  Not big goals or goals that I have no control over.  The focus will simply be on interaction, making a few posts and following relevant people in the hopes I will get followers in return.
Items on my ToDo list now have set times of the day to deal with them and I scheduled in a time, once a week, to review the previous week and plot out my goals for the next week.  It’s not a grand plan, or a foolproof one, but it is a plan, and having one will at least help me make more progress than the random way I have been going about things.
I think this will clear up a few dead ends; now to do something about the angst.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Passive Marketing

I received my quarterly royalty statement yesterday.  (If saying that out loud doesn’t make you feel like a writer, I don’t know what will.)  It’s for my first book, Postcards-I as I now refer to it; incredibly, it is still selling.  Not a lot, but consistently.
This, recall, is a book with an off-putting price tag and one that I have done no marketing for during the last two and a half years.  Yet people are finding it.  And buying it.  Compare that to Postcards-II, the better book (as some have said), the more reasonably priced book, the book I am pushing on anyone who will listen, the book that sits on the virtual shelf right next to Postcards-I.  And that book is not selling.  The mind boggles.
Well, the mind boggled a bit, but mostly it’s not thinking about it.  I’ve made peace with the fact that I am simply not a good marketer.  It is huge handicap, but there is not a lot I can do about it.  As the saying goes, “You can lead a writer to Twitter, but you can’t make him tweet.”  Some writers are naturals at virtual socializing.  I am not.  For those who are good at it, virtual socializing becomes an enjoyable part of their day; to me, it means constant effort, continual mental anguish and the vague yet pervasive feeling that everyone who encounters me on-line thinks I'm a snake-oil salesman.
I needed no further proof of this, but Google+ provided it anyway.  Google’s answer to Facebook arrived in my IN box less than a week ago.  I may be a dweeb when it comes to social networking, but I’m still a geek at heart and so I had a play with it.  Already I am finding writers (of the self-pubbing school) leaping on this new wave, trying to wring every drop of marketing power out of it that they can.  Some of these people already have hundred of followers.  I have seven.
Now, it’s not that I didn’t have the idea that Google+ could be worked into a great marketing tool (I did), it’s that I didn’t have the instinct, imagination or drive to put that idea into practice.
Much as I hate to admit it, social networking, in this micro-age, is an absolute necessity if you are going to sell anything.  Taking that, and my lack of virtual social grace, into account, I have formulated a plan:  Get other people to do it for me.  The key is to do something so interesting or unusual that others will tweet and post and G+ it all over cyberspace without you having to touch a keypad.  Unfortunately, I’m a bit stuck on the “do something interesting” stage; I’ll have to get back to you on that.  In the meantime, I’ll just have to keep on doing what I feel comfortable with, which is offering my book for reviews, pimping my posts when I think they are interesting enough and popping into Twitter, Facebook and G+ off and on just so people know I’m still alive.  Anything else makes me feel like a huckster.
So, for now, I’m taking a passive role.  My first book found an audience and so will the new one, even if I don’t jump up and down, wave my arms and scream “LOOK AT ME!”  I just wish I could get some real, useful marketing help.
What I would really like is this:
Someone could start a service that would look over your manuscript for you and, if they thought it would sell, they would do all the hard work of editing, proof reading, production and distribution.  And they would handle all the marketing.  Because they were doing all this, they would naturally get a bigger cut of the profits (you might squeal about that, but consider this: if your $2.00 Kindle book sells in a “non-Amazon” country, Amazon will scoop up 82% of the takings, and they don’t even proof read your manuscript for you).  This would allow me to work on a second book while they marketed the first book.  I would do what I do best, they would do what they do best and, in a perfect world, we would both make money.
But we know this isn’t a perfect world.
In a perfect world, Yoko would have jumped in front of John.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

I Quit

I’ve had enough fun with the "zero-selling book" shtick, and I’ve had a bit of a think about this whole self-promotion business; now it’s time to get back to work.  At the end of the day, it’s all about the words.
Self publishing is an amazement, a miracle that allows writers to get their work in front of an audience.
Self-promotion is another thing altogether.  To many, it is a chance to shine, to gather an adoring audience, to reap the rewards of their hard work.  To me, however, it is a frustrating time-suck, a con, and something I am coming to believe I am better off without.
But (I hear you exclaim) a self-published writer must self-promote.  No one is going to find your book by accident.  True.  But there are a few facts of life that need to be taken into account when it comes to me and self-promotion: when I say I suck at it, I don’t simply mean I don’t like to do it, or that I am not very good at it, I mean I am genetically unable to do it; you may as well ask me to write a thesis on quark physics, I’ll have just as much of a chance of pulling it off.  And this is not something I am just discovering.
Consider this:
  • Back when I was a PC manager, my boss asked me to evaluate new software and I wrote a memo to him (I still have a copy) that says there is no future in MS Windows.
  • I went with 8-track tapes
  • I bought a Betamax
In short, I am rubbish at making business decisions or prognostications, and have no imagination when it comes to exploiting new technology.  I’m also a writer, which means I am not naturally a pushy person.  If you see me at a party, you’ll likely find me sitting by myself in the corner with a drink in my hand, observing.  This leads most people to assume I’m shy or, perhaps, someone with “special needs” but I’m just a writer, doing what writer’s do.
The On-Line Marketing Game is also becoming more frenetic.  When my first book was published, I had the blog, and my followers, and I was encouraged to send my book to reviewers.  I was able to do these things, but it took about all my time and pushed me to my marketing limits.
Now, however, social networking is The Thing, and I MUST be a gadabout on Twitter and Facebook if I hope to have a chance in hell of selling a book.  But Twitter intimidates me and my Facebook friends are, well, my friends, not a marketing opportunity.  And I cannot tweet every hour, on the hour, day in, day out, about my book.  This is what people seem to think you have to do to get noticed (and they not only think it, they do it, and it is highly annoying), so what am I do to in the face of this onslaught, post every 45 minutes?  (I’ve had a look: my balls are neither that large nor made of brass, so this is not something I would even consider.)
Besides, every single person following me on Twitter is trying to sell me something.  So they aren’t exactly a great target audience, either.
And now, as I struggle to get a handle on the basics of social networking, along comes TweetDeck, and ChimpLst, and Google Reader, and HootSuite, and Google+, and TweetSprout, and Social Media Examiner, and there are simply not enough hours in the day to keep up with these things.  And if I read an article on using Social Media to pimp your book, I get advice like “embed a retweet button in a free chapter of your book” and I don’t even know what the fuck that means.
And throughout all of this, the only constant is that fact that I am not getting any writing done.  Not a bit.  All my time, effort, energy and the will to live is being sucked away by futile attempts to conquer Social Networking.
So enough is enough; I quit.  Social Networking: 1, Me: 0.
This doesn’t mean I am giving up.  Quite the opposite; I am going back to what this is all about—the writing.  After all, this blog isn’t called “The Life of Social Marketing.”

Friday, July 08, 2011

The Numbers Game

Numbers.  That’s what it’s all about, really; marketing, at its most basic level, means getting your message in front of as many people as possible.  The actual product, what the message says about your product and how that message is presented are all peripheral issues, and totally dependent on the first.  If your message is not getting in front of people, then all the rest is a waste of time.
I’ve been wasting my time.
We all like to talk about our fan base and our followers, etc. but what does that translate to in terms of real numbers?  In my case, not a lot.  When the first book came out, I managed to carve out a respectable number of followers, and sell a few books.  But I made the huge mistakes of A) assuming those followers were still following, B) moving my blog at a critical moment and C) assuming my followers would follow me.  That assumption was so strong I never even questioned it, so for the past two months I have been paying attention to The Product, The Message, and The Presentation, and all the while I have been preaching to an empty church.
So the solution, really, is simple: fill the pews.  The problem, of course, is that this is easier said than done.
My handicap is that I am old and crotchety and set in my ways and still think I’m living in the IT barn-storming days when the information highway was just a dirt road and simply being on it made you something special.  (Back then we used HTML, Sparky, and we liked it.)  When I set up my first web log, I didn’t have to hunt for followers—they found me.  There were not a lot of us out there and we were doing it for fun.  These days, of course, everyone with a blog is using it to pimp their books (me included), promote their “Brand” or push their organization.  We’ve all become hucksters, strip-mining the Cyberlandscape for our next customer.
In an environment like that, standing out is hard.  Just having a book out used to be news, but with 76 billion self-published books currently on Amazon (oops, it just went up to 77 billion*) “Indie” authors are about as rare and newsworthy as corrupt politicians.  So, like a corrupt politician, unless you do something extraordinary (like get caught in a Travelodge with an underwear model, Shetland pony and a check for £500,000 from Rupert Murdock for “services Rendered”** ***), no one is going to pay much attention to you.
John Locke did something extraordinary: he devised a system that enabled him to sell 1 million eBooks, so people pay attention to him.
Amada Hocking did something extraordinary: she became a self-published millionaire, and she didn’t even have a system, so people pay attention to her.
But, in a way, I have done something extraordinary, as well, so it’s only a matter of time before people start paying attention to me.
Think about it: at a time when eBooks are so lucrative and popular that unscrupulous scammers are randomly stringing 80,000 words together, slapping stolen covers on them and uploading them to Amazon’s Kindle publishing site, and make money on them, I have managed to produce a quality product, advertize it to an admittedly small but targeted marketing cluster and not sell a single book.
Granted, I am taking into account only the month of June 2011 and only Amazon (US/UK/Kindle) and Smashwords.  I have sold a few on Barnes and Noble, and a dozen or so by hand, as well as a smattering in May when the book was first launched, but don’t confuse me with facts: selling ZERO books is the only extraordinary thing I have done and I am going to hold onto that.
In fact, this is so extraordinary that people will want to know about it.  This story should be picked up by the National news so millions of people can flock to my book’s site and see THE BOOK THAT DID NOT SELL.  It could become a pilgrimage for discouraged self-pubbers, who gaze at my stats and think, “Well, at least I’m doing better than that!”  Or a cautionary tale for hopefuls putting the final touches on their epic tale of Dwarf Love in the 23rd Century, causing them to stop and think, “Perhaps this self-publication thing isn’t such a hot idea after all.”
This could, of course, backfire: millions of possible customers might come to my site only to be so awed by THE BOOK THAT DID NOT SELL that they can’t bring themselves to buy it for fear of breaking the streak.  To these potential customers (and, of course, future, dear, devoted friends—we’ll be exchanging Christmas cards, I just know it) I say: Don’t be afraid to buy the book; I’ve already attained my ZERO credentials.  The record I am trying to break now is the biggest comeback for a non-selling book, humor division.
I’m starting at ZERO, so I have a huge advantage.

* statistics from
** I’m talking about the corrupt politician here, not self-published writers
*** The extraordinary issue, of course, is that they were in a Travelodge; no self-respecting politician would be caught dead in a Travelodge

Sunday, July 03, 2011

How I Didn't Sell 1 Million eBooks - the Analysis

Now that I’ve let the cat out of the bag, I had better follow up with the promised analysis.
I was hesitant to post that article, but it turned out well because the comments by Catana really sharpened my focus, and in some surprising ways.  But let’s start with the baseline, what my assets and advantages are and then go into what I think is going wrong and why.
My baseline (aside from a sale of zero books in my first month) is my product: it is a good product, one I honestly believe in and one, even though I am a hesitant salesman, I am not hesitant to recommend because I know it is value for money.  I am not trying to sell crap, I am selling a quality product, edited and proof read to a professional level with a professional quality cover and one which, I am certain, will give the reader full value in terms of entertainment and enjoyment.
That is my asset and my advantage, which brings us to price: how much is that entertainment and enjoyment worth?  That is hard to pin down.  I purposely set the price as low as I could without making it seem like a $.99 throwaway title.  $2.99 was, I believed, a bargain price.  But Amazon added tax on that (it has been on the site for $3.75 – 80% – that’s some hefty tax!) and that has, in my mind, moved to book out of impulse-buy territory.  The paperback I priced as low as I could.  Some of you probably don’t understand that you have a lowest price threshold for Createspace books.  Mine is priced as low as I could get away with and still make a buck (literally, $1) on each unit sold.  The marketing channels Amazon opens up (this, I assume, includes sites like Barnes and Nobel, as the paperback is on there and I cannot think of any other way it might have ended up there) earn me $0 due to my low price, but I accept this as I do not expect to sell enough on those sites to really matter.
So is it the price?  Is it low enough?  I can’t say. I think it’s a fair price, and I cannot make it any lower without opening up a whole new can of worms I would just as soon avoid.  So, for now at least, the price will remain as it is.
That leave marketing, which is a two-fold process: getting my message in front of as many appropriate people as possible and, once their attention is gained, convincing them that they need this book.
And here I made some errors that I didn’t realize until reading Catana’s comments.  Catana referred to me as an unknown author, and a new blogger.  Both of these references rankled me, but I soon saw that the first was true and the second was of my own making.
An unknown author?  I beg your pardon.  I have a book out, published by a real publisher, thank you very much.  I have been on national radio, I am a name among the expat community, I am…full of shit.
The fact that I gained a following, and a bit of notoriety for the first book and am known around a tiny portion of cyberspace counts for nothing.  As far as the cyberworld is concerned, I don’t exist.  But, and this is where the problem originated: because I thought I was actually known, I made the assumption people would “get” the book without much explanation from me.
My message to people needs to introduce me and entice them to want to know more about me, not just say, “Hey, I have a new book out!” and assume they will understand A) who I am, and B) what the book is about.  Lesson learned.
The other observation was that I am a new blogger.  That is patently not true.  I have been blogging non-stop since 1995.  Postcards From Across the Pond began in 2001.  This blog in 2006.  The boneheaded thing I did—after spending all those years building a following—was move everything to this new Blog Empire at the same time I released the book.  I had good intentions.  I read that, if you are going to be a self-published author, a professional looking blog is a must, and—long unsatisfied with my Blogger blogs—I used that as an excuse to create what you are now reading.  I am pleased with the final product, but it resulted in me losing three quarters of my followers and is apparently giving any new followers (my potential book buying public) the impression that I am a newbie.
Unfortunately, that error has been made and cannot be unmade.  All I can do is carry on and regain followers, one at a time.
So I need to rethink my book ads, and rebuild my fan base.  Leaving us with the bugaboo of Social Networking.
This is something I have only recently gotten into, and only because I realize it is absolutely necessary if you want to reach more than the few hundred people who regularly read your blog.  It is a brilliant strategy, though: you put up a post that either directly or obliquely mentions your work, you tweet something clever to bring your followers to your blog and ultimately to your book page and your book description is so enthralling that they cannot but help buy it.  That is something I think I could do.  However:
When John Locke tweets, he reaches 21,000 followers, Joe Konrath’s announcements are read by his 5,300 followers, when I tweet, I hit 127 people.  Not exactly a huge pool of potential buyers.
But that is simply because I am new to it; that can be remedied by time.
I am way over my limit here, so I will summarize and close:
Price: May or may not be a factor but will stay as it is for now.
Marketing: Revamp the promotional material for the book to describe it better and give people more of a reason to buy it.
Social Networking: Continue to responsibly tweet (more about this next time) and build a following.
One of the cardinal rules of self-publishing is that this is a marathon, not a sprint.  I am not out of the race yet.  More as the story develops.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

How I Sold Somewhat Less Than 1 Million eBooks (and you can, too)

I’ve been agonizing for some time over this blog.  It has always been the bastard cousin to my “real” blog, but I have grown fond of it and made the decision to bring it with me into this new Blog Empire.  But its purpose still confuses me.  Time to get back to basics:
This blog (I’m not preaching to the choir here, I’m preaching to myself) is about what is going on in my life in terms of writing (hence the title).  But that, alone, brings with it a conundrum—when the writing is going well, I generally do not have the time to update this blog, and when the writing is not going well, I not only don’t feel like updating this blog, but an update would not be in my best interests.  Over this past week, seeing the count of “Days Since Last Post” ratcheting up (Do I really keep track of stuff like that?  Oh, boy, do I.) I composed no less than three separate blog posts for The Life of Writing, but each one of them turned out too whinny and/or defeatist, so I trashed them.
The other problem with this blog is the style.  Whenever I open a document, MS Word defaults to “Normal” and I default to “Humorous Personal Essay.”  This is something I have been doing for so long that I don’t know how to do anything else.  (HINT: I wrote my first, published humorous essay on a typewriter—you’ve probably seen one in a museum—and I was taught to end my articles and stories, not with “The End,” but with – 30 –, which harkens back to the days of the telegraph.)  This was the main reason I resisted the Blogsphere for so long; my posts were not blog updates (“Got up late, had eggs for breakfast”) they were well thought out, well constructed, 800-1000 word articles double-spaced on one side of 8 ½ x 11 inch white bond paper.  (I eventually relented, but blogs had grown up by then; nobody posts crap like “Got up late, had eggs for breakfast” on a blog anymore.  That’s what Twitter is for.)
But my point is, The Life of Writing was never meant for that.  This was to be a place I could simply and honestly post accounts of where my writing life was taking me.  Dispatches from the front line; factual but not necessarily informative or entertaining.
So let’s get back to basics and the heart of what this blog is all about.  How is the writing going and, more specifically, how is The Great Experiment coming along?
More Postcards… was released as an eBook in mid-May.  Initial indicators were optimistic as my core fans and friends all bought copies and glowing reviews began coming in (one fan wrote to tell me she laughed so hard she wet herself; I just wish she would post that to Amazon).  The paperback arrived just at the end of May and several fans and friends had e-mailed me asking when it was coming out because they didn’t want the Kindle edition.  When the book became available, I wrote to each and every one of them telling them they could now buy a copy.  So, to me, June is the base month, the first full month of sales and the period after the honeymoon glow had faded and sales would represent how successful my marketing techniques had been.
So, thought further ado, here are the numbers for my base month:
Number of paperback copies sold via Amazon and Amazon UK (discounting the 5 my cousin bought):  Not. A. Single. One.
Number of eBooks sold in June via Amazon Kindle, Kindle UK and Smashwords:  Not. A. Single. One.
Now, it would be easy to become discouraged by this, but I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing.  First of all, I think it serves as a good object lesson to all those people thinking, “Hey, this eBook thing is a gold mine; slap a cover on some words, upload it to the web and watch the money roll in.”  Trust me, it won’t; not in a roll or even a trickle.
Secondly, as base numbers go, what could be better than zero?  There is no way to go but up.  (Unless, of course, some of the people who bought the eBook return them and send me into negative number; now that would be depressing.)
I would like to go deeper into my analysis, discuss why I think this has happened and what I am planning to do about it but I’m over my 800-word limit, and editors get cranky if you take up too many column inches, so I’ll have to leave all of that for next time.
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