Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Reality Check

You've no doubt seen the success stories of those who self-publish their e-books...people who sell a million copies, are able to write full-time and make a living at it. And no doubt, you've heard them pitch the idea that writers would be foolish not to do it this way...

And it makes you wonder, maybe I should do it too...

So, to test this theory, I've self-published two pieces, first (back in December) my Aston West novella Seeker...and then (2 weeks ago), my latest (non-Aston) novel, The Cure. The first, I've priced at the ultra-low 99 cent level (for a 20K word novella), while the latest is available for a more moderate $2.99 (for around a 60K word novel). With these two data points, I'm hoping to give a more accurate reading for would-be self-published authors (and myself) as to whether this golden goose is really as shiny as we'd be made to believe.

A few things to realize about me (for comparison purposes):
-I have been previously published, though by a small press without widespread bookstore distribution, with two books under my belt (Heroes Die Young and Friends in Deed). I also have developed a small niche following based on my series of short stories featuring Aston West.
-I do not have hundreds of thousands of followers on my blog, nor my Twitter feed nor my Facebook fan page. I believe that all of these together net about 1000 people, maybe.
-I do market myself, through my social media outlets, through online groups and webpages, and through visits to conventions from time to time.
-I have a full-time job that I use to fund my writing exploits, so I don't have a lot of spare time to write or market (but I make do with the little time I have).
-I'm generally able to get a new novel finished in about a year or two (see the aforementioned full-time job information), though I've been attempting to better that.
-My two self-published titles are only available in e-book format, though I'm expecting to eventually self-publish a print version of The Cure (and am in talks on bringing Seeker to print as well)

So, all that being said, here's the breakdown so far:

Seeker has been out since (late) December 2010, on Amazon (Kindle) and Smashwords (who has then distributed to such spots as Kobo and B&N (Nook). It's averaged around 2-4 sales most months. With the price point of 99 cents, royalties are low, around $2-3 a quarter (which because of the minimum payment requirements, are being stored up until I sell enough). The sales totals for this book come in around 40 books in the last 7 months. For comparison, my first quarter sales of my two small press books (which are priced at $2.99 and $3.99/$4.99 (depending on the store)) ran 12 and 5 copies each...I have not yet received the second quarter statement.

[For those keeping score at home, my novella sold 13 copies in the first quarter...but at a much lower price point...royalties, however, weren't that much different, which is another post for another day]

The Cure has only been out for two weeks, so more concrete sales numbers will be forthcoming in future updates...though I can say that the "initial rollout" sales are fairly consistent with those I saw with Seeker back in December (and ironically, are running fairly close to the sales of Seeker in the same two-week period). I will note here that after The Cure came out, I did see an uptick in sales of Seeker from June, from 2 to 4

So, I don't really know how often I'll give these updates, but stay tuned for more. And hopefully the numbers that I post will give you a feeling of what to expect from a foray into self-publishing e-books.


Julie Eberhart Painter said...

My experience has been more definitive. Self pubbing is a lose, lose situation. I have three self-pubbed books, All three of the two separate well-known publishers , now that the seven-year limit has run out, have asked me for $199 each for the return of my rights. My rights, for which I have the copyright! One returned my rights for free but asked for $199 to remove the book from Amazon.

I responded to them, not the other. Let them sue me. Maybe they'd like to be audited. At the speed with which the courts move, I'll be able to watch the trial on TV from my bed in Intensice Care.

T. M. Hunter said...

If you went with a publisher (as it sounds from your comment), then it wasn't least in my experience. Sounds like vanity publishing, or a publisher that should be placed on the Preditors and Editors list. If you had a contract for seven years, and the seven years had passed (depends on the contract verbiage), then they can't hold on to your rights, regardless of whether you pay them. And if they don't hold the rights to sell it, you can contact Amazon's legal department, show them the documentation that disallows them from selling copies, and get it removed from "new sales" (sadly, it will still be there for used copies) distribution.

I had a publisher once that returned my rights without issue (which is how HDY came to be with Champagne), but others I'd heard they tried to get the author to pay for the rights return...

It's definitely a tough business, and one with many pitfalls to fall into. But only time will tell whether or not it works on in my case.

Julie Eberhart Painter said...

Thanks. I'm not sure they are selling new copies of my books, just used.

As you have probably figured out, Preditors and Editors is all over this publisher who claimed to be a traditional press. They had to request that the publishers, etc., be listed in alphabetical order. befor ehty were on the top!