Before I begin, I should warn you that this post isn’t for casual readers. It deals with some sales figures, promotional ideas, and other publishing-related things. At the end I’m going to make a call for advice from my fellow writers / publishers. This post is just my perspective, my opinion, and I want you to tell me what I’m doing wrong here. Please don’t be shy.
“The Reverse Konrath”
Until yesterday, I’d taken great care not to pay attention to sales figures. I knew I’d spend more time obsessing over sales ranking than doing more productive things (like editing the next book), so I chose to remain blissfully ignorant.
Then I received my 1099 statement from Amazon, prompting me to sit down and figure out how much ALT earned in 2011 so I could include it on my taxes.
I see now that I’m paying the price for my ignorance.
Right. For the sake of simplicity, these numbers are approximations and include fluctuations between retail ($2.99) and promotional ($0.99) pricing periods. They also include adjustments for file transfer surcharges, exchange rates, and retailer cuts. The print total includes sales through retail channels as well as signing events. I’ve also excluded the Kickstarter totals and Smashwords promo downloads, as that would really skew the numbers.
This is a bare-bones what-I-sold examination of 2011:
I call this section “The Reverse Konrath” because, unlike Joe Konrath, I didn’t make millions of dollars and sell hundreds of thousands of digital copies. Instead I’m telling you how I barely sold any copies and made a little more than enough to cover website hosting costs.
My total 2011 earnings for ALT rounded out to $175. I had just enough left over to buy a Double Quarter-Pounder value meal from McDonald’s and super-size it. Comfort food to aid me in the wake of this most depressing revelation.
So What Happened?
I can attribute a paucity of sales to a number of things (and I will), but the biggest offender is Yours Truly.
I spent the first quarter of the year doing everything I could to promote the book. I sent out review requests, gave interviews, did a blog tour, ran multiple contests and giveaways, even paid for ad space on Reddit. The wind was knocked from my sails by a really shitty review which came right around the time I started to get burned out on the whole promotion thing.
I retreated. I stopped requesting reviews for a while and I stopped actively promoting on Twitter. The thought of promoting the book made me sick, and even now it turns my stomach.
Look, I’m an introverted person. I hate being outgoing and I hate being fake. I’m the sort who doesn’t make small talk if there’s nothing to talk about. You readers should know by now that I don’t post here unless I actually have something to say, which explains why sometimes there are weeks between actual posts. But I digress.
I’m not saying this as an excuse. It’s simply a statement of fact. I’m still promoting with daily automated tweets, and I’ve had a string of reviews come through in the last few months. Sales are still happening, albeit slowly. Word of mouth takes time.
- ALT may have already had its time. Yes, the inferior, unedited original edition that I put together when I had no clue what I was doing had more sales and exposure than its more superior counterpart. The original ALT reached over 2k people over the course of a couple of years. It’s possible that it’s reached about as many folks as it’s going to, and this suggests I should double my efforts on finishing its sequel.
- ALT is an extremely niche book. My friend Hope calls it “genre-bending,” and while that sounds great for blurbs and book covers, it’s a nightmare for sales. I call it a supernatural thriller, but it’s also just a “thriller.” And “horror.” And “urban fantasy” if you want to stretch the definition a bit. Some say it’s “sci-fi.” It can be classified in a lot of places, and will appeal to a huge number of audiences, but at the end of the day I have to label as one, maybe two of those things, and that’s it. Anyone going to Amazon will find it under “Paranormal” and “Thrillers.” Not “horror” or “urban fantasy.” See the problem here?
- The indie market is becoming saturated. I mean really saturated, and with a ton of writers who know what the hell they’re doing, too. If I’d had the means to re-do ALT (hell, if I’d done it right the first time) four years ago, the book probably would’ve fared better in the market. I have a tiny bit of business sense, but that’s 0.0001% of my knowledge. I have an English degree, folks. Not an MBA. The folks who are incredibly successful at doing what I’m doing have great business sense (like Zoe Winters and John Locke), and it shows. They’re making a living being completely independent.
Does This Mean ALT is a Failure?
My inner financier wants to say “Absolutely!” But the artist in me, the real reason why I put myself through this and return to a manuscript night after night, says no, this wasn’t a failure, and here’s why: I didn’t go into this to make money.
I have a steady job. A career, in some respects, outside the page and writer circles. That’s not to say writing is a mere hobby. Trust me, it isn’t. I wouldn’t be doing this if it was just a hobby. I treat my writing as a second job. A fun job, a “night” job. Yeah, it doesn’t pay my bills, but it keeps me sane and I love the hell out of it.
Also, I have to remember a couple of things which puts those numbers in perspective.
First, I’ve maintained this website for years out of my own pocket, unrelated to book sales. I do so for full control over this portal connecting me to you, the Reader. If I wasn’t into publishing, I’d be using this place to post my stories (and that’s what I did, too, if you’ve been around since the early days).
Second, ALT was completely funded by Kickstarter backers. Those dollars also secured the groundwork for future publishing endeavors: the cost of setting up Precipice and registering the ISBN block. In that respect, anything ALT earned was straight profit.
I realize this is simply a matter of perspective and it really depends on how funds are allocated, but for the moment I’m going to roll with it because it sounds way more positive than “ALT bombed and I suck.”
What Am I Doing Now With ALT? What Am I Planning for TLM?
Social media is a blessing and a curse for promotion. Others may have luck with it, but I’m not sold on it. Yeah, it’s great for connecting with readers, but when it comes down to it, I can’t bring myself to send an automatic DM (direct message for the non-Tweeters) to a new follower that says “LOL HI BUY MY BOOK PLZ K THX.” I hate it when others do it to me, so why should I do it to my followers? The whole thing just seems dirty to me.
The “Pay With A Tweet” contest wasn’t a total failure, but it wasn’t exactly a success either. There were less than 20 participants (I’d hoped for 50 to 100). I’m grateful for those who did participate, but it disappointed me to see that people wouldn’t even tweet about the book for a chance to win a modest prize package. Other authors like Scott Nicholson have promoted giveaways of Kindle Fires in recent weeks, but I can’t compete with that. Not yet, anyway. Not until the book starts generating actual cash flow. I’m still searching for the right “way” to promote via social media.
Otherwise, I’m still submitting ALT for reviews whenever I find a venue that seems like a good fit. I made the mistake of sending it to the wrong venue and it ended horribly, so I’ve learned to be more selective. I’m still doing interviews and trying to get featured whenever possible, and I still promote the book across Twitter (daily) and my Facebook page (occasionally).
My friend Henry keeps telling me to give the book away for free for a period of time. I’m planning to do so, but I haven’t decided when. I’ve looked into the KDP Select program, but doing so would mean giving Amazon exclusive rights for 90 days and I’d have to delist the book from Smashwords and all other retailers. That takes time, and I don’t want to lose the reviews/ratings I have at those other venues.
Right now my plan is to enroll TLM in KDP Select once it’s ready and see how it fairs. Between now and then, I’ll also play around with ALT as a free download on Amazon only, just to see if interest increases.
I haven’t outlined a definitive marketing plan for TLM. I probably won’t until the text is finalized and a release date is set.
Learning to Crawl
I apologize for all of this being a huge info dump, but I felt the need to break down what’s working and what isn’t, and analyze the pieces. I’ve taken away some lessons this past year with ALT–mainly that I have to crawl before I can walk, and at the end of the day, regardless of “sales,” a lot of people downloaded and read my book. That’s fucking awesome.
Of course, this doesn’t mean there aren’t opportunities to do better. While I’m not doing this to make money, I’d like for it to earn enough to at least sustain itself. If sales continue like this for TLM and onward into Book 3, I can’t say I’ll keep publishing on my own after that.
So this is where I turn it over to you, friends. I know some of you writers out there are way better at this than I am. I acknowledge that I’m not a guru on this subject. I’m not a marketing genius, nor am I a savvy businessman. I’m just a writer with a goal, and the path I’m taking to get there isn’t working. I’d like you to help shine some light on a better way. Please tell me what I’m missing. Don’t be afraid to state the obvious, either.
I appreciate it if you read this far. Thanks for sticking with me. I look forward to hearing from you in the comments.
To the future,