I’m classing a ‘failed novel’ as one that has been submitted to agents and publishers over a year or two without having achieved a sale or any/much interest. This is what happened with ‘In A Right State‘.
‘In A Right State’ is my first novel and I sent it out to about 40 agents and 20 publishers, only getting a couple of sniffs – one agent wanted the complete manuscript but gave up after about 6 chapters, another publisher wanted the whole thing to read but then went ‘dark‘.
I started writing my second novel, ‘Broken Branches‘, whilst submitting the first and then after about 2 years I gave up on the first to concentrate on submitting the second and begin writing the third, ‘Blindsided‘. After finishing the first draft of Blindsided, I wanted to do something else before going onto the 2nd draft so I decided to self-publish my first novel, ‘In A Right State’.
So what led me to this decision?
This is more of an anti-blog post to counter all those how to market your book type blog posts which contain a lot of crap, a lot of obvious common sense and a lot of ‘what planet are you on?‘, eg. Spend £20,000 on targeted Facebook ads!
Here’s a few things I see other authors do and other blog posts recommend which I won’t do because I think they’re either a waste of time or crass.
Ain’t no quick fixes here.
Tweeting…constantly about shit.
‘Oh look, my cat just took a dump. Buy my book.’
Streams and streams of retweets.
Tweeting at famous people, writers, publishers, mags, etc in an incessant, needy display of ‘someone please acknowledge me‘…OK, *blocked*.
If your tweet is selling something and is the 2nd one you’ve done this week selling something, then don’t tweet. I give writers a free pass on the week of publication, they deserve to go on an adrenaline fuelled rabbit session when they’ve made it that far.
If your tweet doesn’t interest someone who doesn’t give a shit, then don’t tweet.
ISBN numbers are a big worry for a first time self-publisher, at least it was for me. They smell of officialdom and when you start looking into it, the smell intensifies with cost – Nielsen UK ISBN Agency – £144 for 10 ISBN numbers!
What is an ISBN?
Here’s the official answer from ISBN International;
An ISBN is essentially a product identifier used by publishers, booksellers, libraries, internet retailers and other supply chain participants for ordering, listing, sales records and stock control purposes. The ISBN identifies the registrant as well as the specific title, edition and format.
The first thing to know is that if you’re only producing an ebook then you do not have to have an ISBN. If you’re publishing a physical book, then you’ll need one.
The advantage of having an ISBN for any book is a common reference number across multiple online retailers. It allows the author to search Google with their ISBN to find places selling their book, whilst also allowing retailers to know who’s published a particular book and who to pay. This also allows customers to find their ideal retailer form which to buy your book from.
9781783016501 – In A Right State ebook
9781849145633 – In A Right State paperback
An ISBN may offer a slim sliver of security against lazy ebook pirates who haven’t deleted any ISBN info and gives the author tracking info via Bowker (extra cost + I’ve heard accuracy ain’t perfect), but I think the standardisation argument above is enough to convince me of the benefits of getting an ISBN.
Here’s a free online barcode generator for you to give your designer to place on the back cover – Bookow – the sight of seeing a genuine ISBN barcode on your back cover also derives an unexpected thrill too.
Anyway, here’s what I did and what I’ll do next time to get 100% bona fide ISBN numbers for my book at nowhere near the original costs.
With the eBook Partnership distribution service you can get an ISBN number for your ebook for free. The distribution service is $50 (£32) so get this for your free ISBN number and get your ebook submitted to all the major retailers too, bargain!
I used Completely Novel, a print on demand company, for my paperback version. Their ‘Plus’ plan (£8 per month) includes a free ISBN number and a few other features which make it worthwhile such as full online distribution.
So that’s it. How to get an ISBN number for your self-published ebook and/or paperback in the most cost-effective way.
A year on from self-publishing my first novel, what lessons have I learned? What would I do differently next time? What mistakes did I make?
Even though my sales have been pretty poor, I don’t think I made many mistakes. I experimented and as a result there’s a few things I won’t be doing again, but I don’t think I did anything to adversely affect sales. By the same token, I obviously didn’t do much to stimulate sales but therein lies the alchemy.
I did 4 drafts, gave it to about 10 beta readers, redrafted again, gave it to a professional editor for a critique, redrafted, then the editor copy-edited the whole thing. I wouldn’t drastically change that for the next time, I’m pleased with the words that came out the other end of that process.
Beta readers are hard to come by. I recently got my 3rd novel back from some beta readers, about half of which have beta read all 3 of my novels. My general rule is; if they get back to you, use them again. If they don’t, ditch them. They’re just too polite to ditch you.
Paying for an editor is expensive but worth it. The best money you’ll ever spend.
Once you’ve written a book, edited a book and published a book, you need to promote the book. We know this, but how?
You can go asking and begging for book reviews, you can try marketing/PR stunts, you can go on a social network and blogging frenzy to drum up some business and you can also try the old fashioned, uncreative method of paid advertising.
I’ve tried all these but here is my sorry tale of paid advertising, so you can save your money, or at least, better target it. Also, many, many ‘experts’ go on about the vagaries of online marketing, lovingly vomiting the latest buzz phrases to build up an impressive wall of hyperbole without actually nailing their colours to a mast. Here I’m skewering my colours to a sinking ship.
My budget was miniscule. I didn’t put a hard and fast rule on it because if I’d said, ‘£100’, that would’ve seemed a lot straight off the bat, so I kept my eye out for deals and experimented here and there. I could’ve put £100 into targeted Facebook ads but that was putting all my eggs in one basket, not as experimental and to be honest, £100 ain’t going to get you far on Facebook.
So here is a list of all the places where I paid for a text ad, a ‘banner’, newsletter or tweet. A combination of websites and Twitter accounts, in the vain hope of discovering those unrelenting hordes of hungry ebook readers;
I finally get a Bookbub promotion approved because I said I’d give it away for free. Goes against my Taylor Swift-like instincts but I put it down as a marketing cost. I’m selling fuck all at the moment anyway, so profits aren’t going to be hit.
I set a date and then log in to Amazon. I’d wrongly, dumbly assumed I could set the price to zero. You can’t. Only if you’re taking part in KDP Select, which I had done about 8 months previously. You can re-enter KDP Select but you have to give Amazon exclusive rights to your book and I’d just paid to get my book listed at all the other retailers, so fuck that.
Bookbub states that listing your book for free elsewhere might get picked up by Amazon’s price match and therefore get your ebook listed for free on Amazon. So I tried that by listing it for free on Apple. Amazon’s price match ignored me so my Bookbub promotion went out with just the Apple iBooks link. I got 2 downloads at a cost of $40.
Amazon’s pricing restrictions have now resulted in me INCREASING the price of my book for a few months so I can then go back to Bookbub with a 50% discount enabling me to then reduce the price to 99p. I feel like a sofa salesman!
A book that wasn’t selling has now increased it’s price.
A book that wasn’t selling on Amazon so got listed on other retailers is then expected to remove itself from those retailers to price the book for free via KDP Select to stimulate sales? I think not, old son.
If an author much more popular than I, wanted to promote a book for free, they can on other sites. They could drive people into the loving arms of another retailer, forcing them to register an account and breaking down the barrier to them getting further books from that site in the future.
So how is Amazon’s restrictive approach to pricing helping Amazon?
I can understand Amazon don’t want to become a repository for free books to sponge off their huge traffic, but then again, I don’t think authors ideally want to give away their books for free either. It’s a marketing technique, a traffic driver, a sales stimulus, an interest piquer, a chance to gather some much needed reviews; not a business model.
This would also help authors with a backlist, they could give away the first book in a series to hook readers into the buying the rest of the series.
Amazon should allow ebooks to be sold for free without having to enroll in KDP Select to help get the sales ball rolling. They could add time restrictions (1 month per year), sales rank restrictions (no book in top 1000 can do a free giveaway), review restrictions (no book with more than 100 5 star reviews can do a giveaway), so not everyone takes the piss but enabling a vital sales tool to be used by authors struggling to get themselves out there…like me.
Authors and Amazon want the same thing, increased profits, so why not do all they can to help facilitate this?
The second half of the year didn’t go much better, in fact, probably worse.
- I’ve sold 11 copies over the last 6 months on Amazon, 27 in total for the year.
- I doubled the amount of reviews on Amazon to 8.
- My 4 reviews on Goodreads has remained the same.
- My first review on iBooks.
- My first email from someone who liked the book.
- Sold one paperback copy, but I know who it is so that takes the shine off a little, even though I do appreciate it.
- Didn’t get any new book blog reviews but did get shortlisted for book of the year at SFBook.com.
- Gave a copy of the paperback to my local library who confirmed they would stock it but I haven’t seen it out in the wild yet.
I contacted a whole load of book blogs for a review with a low percentage of replies or acknowledgements. I sent a couple of hard copies off to real world journalists in a Hail Mary attempt, neither have paid off in real terms, but I did get one thank you, which was nice.
I also entered the world of paid advertising. With a small budget I wasn’t expecting great things but it’s worth an experiment, it wasn’t crazy money. I’ll go into more detail in another post, but suffice to say; the ROI was negative and only a couple of outlets actually resulted in a sale.
I also expanded my reach by submitting my book to other online retailers, you can read more here – ‘In A Right State’ on iBooks, Nook, Kobo and more…. Anyway, this has gained me 4 sales across Google, Kobo and iBooks plus a couple of libraries in the US have downloaded it 4 times too.
All in all, pretty uninspiring.
This is all despite lowering the ebook’s price and getting an ad on Bookbub.
So what lessons have I learnt? I’ll let you know in another post (one of the lessons I learnt is increasing blog post count 🙂 ) but I guess this story of mind-numbing mediocrity is a more common story than we might think because not every author can have a debut bestseller rise up out of the blue. There’s a lot of media/Twitter coverage when someone does get into the top ten of any list but if you look closer, they’re very rarely there on their own, without a gimmick or a ‘backstory’, purely through the merit of their writing alone, for a debut novel, especially a self-published one.
This isn’t bitterness, just a fact. It’s another lesson I’ve learnt. A debut author of any book is swimming against a huge current of established authors, celebrity authors, books that have hit the zeitgeist, books with budgets and great contacts, books with good reviews in national publications and a myriad of other reasons.
This is just the beginning. I’m not a one book wonder, I’ve got 2 others on my hard-drive, finished in various drafts. This is the first few steps into the realm of being a writer and ‘In A Right State‘ is something I’m proud of and it’s taught me a lot about both the writing process and the publishing process, as the first steps into any venture would.
I’m downhearted but I’m encouraged. I can do better next time.
Although if you check out a post I wrote before all this started, Self-Publishing: My goal & defining success, then I’m only just short of what I initially defined as ‘Success’ (Selling 50+ ebooks and getting 5 or more 4/5 star reviews on Amazon).
Whatever happens, I hope to have another book out next year. Write, edit, publish, promote, repeat. I get a sick pleasure out of it 🙂
I’ve done my penance on Amazon KDP with pretty poor results so the next step was to spread my wings and get submitting to the other online retailers. The problem with this idea is that submitting to these sites would take time and is about as much fun as chicken pox.
Fortunately, I’d met the people from eBook Partnership who create and distribute ebooks at the Publishing Deconstructed event last September, so I dropped them an email. Turns out they take out all the hassle of distributing to all the main online retailers plus a few foreign ones too for a mere £40. Bargain!
So I sent over my ebook files and cover, completed a form and waited.
I didn’t require Amazon as I’d already submitted to them but a few weeks later I started appearing on a few other retailers. Unfortunately, iBooks rejected my EPUB file because it wasn’t valid, which was annoying as this meant Calibre was churning out non-valid ebook files. Luckily, I’m an ex-web developer so I was able to go in and fix the issue which involved changing the file path to a few font folders – but if you’re unwise to the whims of code and file paths this would mean forking out to get someone else to do it.
Now ‘In A Right State’ is available in a few places, all at a variety of prices around the £1.30 mark.
I haven’t sold any copies yet except 3 at a place called ‘Overdrive‘, who I’d never heard of, but they supply eBooks to libraries all over the world and these sales are broken down to which library downloaded it, which is pretty cool.
Hopefully this extra reach will help sales a little but I’m not expecting anything amazing, it’s all about marketing the book. If no-one’s heard of the book then it makes no difference how many retailers are stocking it.
eBook Partnership have been great value, so I’d recommend them to anyone requiring distribution without the headache.
So now the marketing continues; trying to get blog reviews, Amazon reviews and getting featured on some key ebook newsletters.
And finish off my 3rd novel.
My debut novel, ‘In A Right State‘, has been available on Amazon for about 6 months now and what no-one really tells you is that during this first 6 months you spend 99% of your time trying to get reviews.
At least, for an unknown, self-published, debut author, that’s what you should be spending your time doing because no-one knows who the hell you are so you have to try to convince others to read your book so they’ll tell people who you are and that you’re worth parting with their hard earned cash for.
There are two types of reviews; the customer review you see on Amazon and other places, and then the book reviewer review, the one you see on blogs and on Goodreads, etc. You want both.
So how do you do this?
Basically, a politely worded email asking if maybe someone would kindly donate their precious time to reading a FREE version of your book and review it somewhere….anywhere!
My debut novel, ‘In A Right State’, has now been live on Amazon for 6 months since launching on 7th July 2014, so how has it performed?
Back in February last year I try to define different levels of success in a blog post, ‘Self-Publishing: My goal & defining success‘. According to those goals, I’m just short of ‘success’ (selling 50+ ebooks and getting a few reviews).
- I’ve sold 16 ebooks on Amazon.
- I’ve sold 0 paperbacks.
- I’ve got 4 reviews on Amazon.
- 4 reviews on Goodreads.
- I’ve also got some good reviews on a few book blogging sites such as SFBook, which I’m also really pleased with.
- I also got in the local newspaper, Featured in Local Newspaper!
But the crux of the matter is how much did I spend? Was this a profitable venture? No. Not even vaguely close.
The grand total including editing, developing and marketing = £1,085.33.
I’ve sold 16 ebooks with a royalty of $4.12 per ebook = $66/£42. So in total I’ve made a loss of -£1,043.33 in 6 months.
Not great but I’ve ended up with a professionally edited and presented ebook that I’m proud of. There’s also the added bonus of a print-on-demand paperback version which I had never envisioned of achieving so soon.
And that’s after 6 months. If there’s two lessons I’ve learnt through all this is that publishing and the book industry is slow and getting reviews is hard. I have a few review copies out there in reviewers ‘To Read Lists’ and there’s more out there to be contacted, plus I’ve only been selling on Amazon at full price. In the very near future I’m going to get onto the other ebook providers and also start discounting too.
I refuse to offer this book for free purely out of principal, plus it smacks of desperation.
So, that’s the 6 month review, I’ll see if I can improve things for the 1 year review but I’ve also got the 2nd draft of Novel 3 to get on with too. I need to let ‘In A Right State’ go for a bit and let it fend for itself because I’ve already dedicated a whole lot more time and effort into it than I originally planned but that’s because my original plan was so ill thought out and naive as to be ridiculous.
I’m going to write some more blog posts on what I’ve learnt so far. I should have a bit more time to reflect on the few things that have succeeded and the multitude that haven’t.
Oh yeah, plus I need to get stuck into the 2nd draft of the 3rd novel, ‘Blindsided’. PLUS! I’ve got the seeds of a 4th novel which I’m going to mull over and percolate over 2015 too.