Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A Few Self-Publishing Thoughts and Discoveries

by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig

Progressive Dinner Deadly CoverMy income from self-publishing has varied since I first put a title up last August and followed it with another in November.

I've seen income as high as several months at about $1700 monthly income for one title.

I've seen it as low as $350 ,total, one month for two titles.

I don’t do any advertising. I don't have time to mess a lot with the price or to put well-placed ads on reader-oriented sites. I haven't done cool things like teasers for the next book in the series at the end of each book. I don't tweet or Facebook my books. I don't force Amazon to list books for free by having them run free on Smashwords. I haven't blog-toured during these releases or held giveaways or run contests. Basically, I'm not doing any of the things I'm supposed to be doing, as a smart self-published author, because I'm always scrambling to hit my deadlines.

So...when sales fluctuate wildly, it's not really the result of something I've done. But, as I'll explain below, it can result from what I haven't done.

I just do exactly what you see me do—blog, tweet, update Google +, and use Facebook (although I don’t Facebook much). These promotional things that I do are usually focused on writers, not readers. I'm a little shy with readers.

I'm obviously not becoming one of those Kindle millionaires we're always reading about. Although the extra income is more than welcome.

I'm frequently completely puzzled by my results--both good and bad. This week, I saw Dyeing Shame go to #7 on the Amazon women sleuths chart...above one of Janet Evanovich's. Yeah, it was priced at $.99 to get attention....but it had been at that price for a couple of months. I have absolutely no idea what made the thing suddenly jump up the chart like that. I understood the surge in sales last month, when I had a new release from Penguin. But why in July? So I'm tracking to make more in sales this month for both books than I usually do.

What seems to bring in more sales:

1. When I’ve got one book priced at $.99 and another priced at either $2.99 or $3.99. I’m not saying this is the right thing to do…but I’ve made a lot more money when this has been the case. So, when I’ve had a loss leader (using grocery store parlance), I’ve had higher volume of sales and more general income.

2. When I’ve had a traditionally published release and then have had a book for $.99 and one priced (moderately) higher.

A note: I’ve made more money following a traditionally published release in my own name (i.e., the recent Quilt or Innocence release) than following a release with a pen name (the November 2011 release of Hickory Smoked Homicide as Riley Adams.) This tells me that readers are looking for other books under my real name.

Sales were brisk the first full month after I launched each self-pubbed title. I'm imagining this is due to the fact that I'm writing for a particular subgenre (cozy/traditional mystery) and when there are new books available in that niche, readers are immediately downloading them.

My costs for the projects were recouped in the first month for one book and about a month and a half for the other. Again, this is specific to me and my own experiences. But on average I put in about $550—$600 upfront on the books (editing, covers, formatting).

My main discovery from this process is that I do need to keep track of the sales. I don’t do this for my traditionally published titles—I avoid sales figures at all costs and just focus on writing the best books I can. But for self-pub, when you’re the one in charge of visibility and sales for the title, you need to check in at least once a month. If sales are slow, try something different...probably in regards to pricing. Otherwise, it’s likely going to continue a downward spiral. This is what happened that really slow month that I referenced at the start of the post. I was struggling under a couple of deadlines a few months ago and paying absolutely no attention whatsoever to what was going on with those books. They were both priced at $3.99 and fell in rankings and I never even spared a moment to glance at Amazon to check on them.

From a production standpoint, I’ve learned that I have to think ahead in terms of reserving editors, artists, and formatters. Last year I was ready to put my first self-published book through the production process and everyone I contacted was busy. This time I will contact everyone on my team before I complete my final draft.

I’ve been somewhat unprepared for readers who’ve contacted me asking about print editions of the Myrtle Clover books. A few readers who started reading the series with the trade paperback debut several years ago have been upset, actually, that I had e-versions only of the books and no print copies. I tried to make it up to several by sending them a free PDF of the ebooks. I'm not in the business to alienate readers. I may need to reconsider using CreateSpace.

Although some authors have relished the feeling of complete control over their book that self-publishing provides, I don’t enjoy it that part of it as much….that’s because I’m just so busy in both my personal and professional life that I don’t enjoy scraping together time for the nuts-and-bolts of the production process. I’m happy handing it over to people I've vetted and trust.

What I've found incredibly gratifying is the response from readers. They've bought the books, they've emailed me and Facebooked me. They've enabled me to continue writing a series that had basically ended in 2009. Their interest in the series has encouraged me to keep writing Myrtle Clover books and spend more time with a character I enjoy writing. And the extra income has been nice, too.

I'm thinking that niche books with built-in, dedicated audiences (like cozy mysteries) tend to do well with self-publishing. It certainly doesn't hurt, in my observations, to have traditionally published books releasing regularly, either.

If you’ve dipped your toes in the self-publishing pool, what have you learned? What are your thoughts on it so far?