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What Have I Learned in 18 Months of Self-Publishing


There’s a word I hate to use, but there are times when it is necessary to convey the depth of my feeling.  What have I learned from 18 months of self-publishing?  Fucking nothing.  And I’m fucking tired of trying to figure it out.

Back in the glory days, as in January 2013, I offered One Night in Bridgeport for free for Kindle readers for two days.  Those glorious 48 hours resulted in over 6,000 people downloading the book.  I still marvel at that number.  6,000 people were reading my book.  6,000 people were reading my book for free.  What if I had priced it at .99?  Would they still have downloaded it?  If they had, I would have made $2,000 and still had 6,000 readers.  Better yet, as soon as the free promotion ended, almost 400 people purchased it or borrowed it in the weeks that followed.  Those few weeks were my most profitable as a writer.

I did that free download without promotion, without seeking out websites to promote my free offer.  I put it out there for free and people snapped it up and sales followed.  As I’ve written, since then well over 1,000 people have downloaded the book at the .99 price.  I have over 1,500 readers of Bridgeport (actually adding the free downloaders, I have almost 8,000) and that feels damn good.  Those readers have now produced 41 reviews.  The last ten reviews, spread out over the last two months, have all been four or five star reviews from people I don’t know.  That is huge to me.  People who don’t me from Adam are liking what they read.  Here’s the last one, posted to Amazon today:

A Legal thriller with stay up all night intrigue. Real life like situation.  I hope Mark does more like this one.

While the reviewer is on a first name basis with me, I have absolutely no idea who he is.  He gave me five stars.  I love that.

After my failed experiment moving the book back up to $2.99 (which netted me a couple of sales and then nothing), then down to $1.99 (which netted me a couple of sales and then nothing),, I’ve moved Bridgeport back to .99.  First 24 hours at that price again — four sales (let me change that — as I wrote this, another purchase — so that’s five).  I think I’m not budging from .99 again on that novel.

So, I publish my second novel — Weed Therapy.  A couple of dozen people buy the paperback ($9.95) or the Kindle download ($2.99).  I run something at askDavid.com.  I feature it on GoodKindles.net.  I join a Facebook page for Authors and Readers and post about it there.  I do a Goodreads giveaway.  Sales fall … absolutely flat.  Nothing.  Nada.  Zilch.  So, unlike with Bridgeport, where I waited six months, I decided to push things.

I offered Weed Therapy as a free download for Kindle readers.  For two days (just like with Bridgeport).  Did I expect another 6,000+ downloads?  No, although it would have been nice.  But, I did expect something more than … drum roll … are you ready for this … 88.  Yes, two days later, 88 people downloaded it for free.  Compare those two numbers.  6,000+ versus 88.  Let me add something to the calculation.  Back in January, like I said, I did the free download for Bridgeport with no promotional efforts.  I didn’t have anywhere near as many followers of this blog liking the post about the free download, a handful of whom reblogged it to their own blog.  I hadn’t already featured the book on a number of different websites or FB.  I just threw it out there for free for a couple of days to see what happened.

With Weed Therapy, I posted about it here — my legions of followers did their thing and helped spread the word.  And … 88 people downloaded it for free.

I’m fucking baffled.  Is it the time of the year (there are people who believe the summer is horrible for the book business — I’m not sold on that)?  Is it the genre — everybody will read a legal thriller now and then, but how many people actually want to read something categorized as literary fiction?  I don’t think either of those explanations make sense with such a huge drop off.  Or maybe they do in combination — the time of the year added to the less appealing genre combined to produce a collective yawn from the reading masses.  But still?  6,000 down to 88?  The thing is, going back to the title of this post, I have no fucking idea and I’m monumentally frustrated at not being able to figure this out.

By education and profession, I’m an attorney.  While most people may believe that the law is a black and white world, the reality is that the law is filled with shades of gray.  But, even if it is a gray world, there is some logic and common sense that can be applied to guide analysis and reach conclusions.  The law is frequently like a jigsaw puzzle — but one where you know you’re dealing with a 250-piece, 500-piece, or 1,000 piece puzzle.  And all of those pieces are on the table for you to put together.  You just need to know how they fit together.

This publishing business feels to me, at the moment, like a 1,000 piece puzzle where more than half of the pieces aren’t even on the table.  How do you put a puzzle together when you don’t have all the pieces?

I know this.

1.  Weed Therapy is dropping to .99 tomorrow.  I’ve given up on the idea that people are willing to pay $2.99 for an e-book by somebody not a part of the traditional publishing system.  And that sucks.  Big time.

2.  I’m going to be flooding the e-book world with volume.  I still have a commitment to quality, but I’m going to be pushing long short stories, novellas, and novels out there.  As many as I possibly can.  I’ll rotate them through free, .99, 2.99 and all points in between.  And see what happens.  I’m going to do everything I can to figure out how to crack the code.  Because there has to be a code.  There has to be a way to get all 1,000 pieces of the puzzle on the table so I can put it together.  There has to be.

3.  If you follow this blog and you downloaded Weed Therapy and it had any value or quality for you, post a review on Amazon.  I want to get 10 reviews on it with an average rating of at least 4.0 so I can see if ereadernewstoday will feature it.  Can you do that for me?  To be clear, if you don’t believe it’s worth four or five stars, I’m not asking you to be dishonest.  But, if you think it’s worth that, post the review.  Get me further along this path.

 

 

 

 

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16 responses to “What Have I Learned in 18 Months of Self-Publishing

  1. Charles Yallowitz August 14, 2013 at 8:44 pm

    Good luck with that plan. I think it shows promise. I do think some genres have better luck with free promos than others. It doesn’t seem to really work for fantasy like it does for romance. My two times I had decent downloads followed by a drop into the abyss. Maybe it isn’t about finding an existing pattern, but forging your own for your book.

    • kingmidget August 14, 2013 at 8:50 pm

      Yes. But how do you figure out with each book what that plan is? You have it somewhat easier than I do because you’re in a particular genre and you’re working on a series. One of my difficulties is that I don’t necessarily want to be pigeonholed into just one genre. There are a range of stories I want to write. Legal thrillers, literary fiction, short stories, futuristic xxxx, … and a novel or two I’m not even sure which genre to fit into. If I had hit a few hundred downloads on Weed Therapy, I probably wouldn’t be so baffled, but 88? It’s a complete mystery to me at this point.

      • Charles Yallowitz August 14, 2013 at 8:57 pm

        It doesn’t make sense. What about pulling a Stephen King? Use one genre to get the reputation and branch out when you have stability. Most authors stay in one genre at the beginning or use shorter works to gain attention like you’re planning.

      • kingmidget August 14, 2013 at 9:00 pm

        I don’t think Stephen King has ever really branched out. For all of the publicity about Joyland being a different genre for him, I just finished reading it and I’m pretty convinced it wasn’t a stretch for him. Stephen King is a bad example to use with me. 🙂
        The problem I have — and just so you know, this is not a criticism of you because you’re doing what works for you and what works for most authors — is that sticking with one genre seems monumentally boring to me. That said, I could claim that there is a genre I’m stuck in — slice of life. When people ask me what kind of stories I write, I struggle as I don’t think there’s necessarily a genre that fits. At some point, I tend to just mumble, “I think what I write are slice of life stories.” Too bad that Amazon doesn’t include “slice of life” as a genre. 🙂

      • Charles Yallowitz August 14, 2013 at 9:04 pm

        Dark Tower, but I agree with you.

        With genre, it depends on how you work them. I can add some other genres in for subplots and use my fantasy focus to help. Then again I’m more focused on character-driven stories.

      • kingmidget August 14, 2013 at 9:06 pm

        The Dark Tower series was the greatest disappointment I have experienced as a reader. It is when my love affair with Mr. King ended horribly. Don’t go there. 🙂 I will never forgive him for what he put me through with those seven books only to have them end the way they did. That’s when I realized he wasn’t the master he thinks he is. His arrogance overcame him. OK. I need to stop. I could go on and on and on…

      • Charles Yallowitz August 14, 2013 at 9:08 pm

        It was hyped up by my friends for years and I read the first book. Not impressed enough to continue, so I don’t know the ending.

      • kingmidget August 14, 2013 at 9:11 pm

        I absolutely loved the first book and was intrigued by the idea of this story spinning out over many years of the author’s life. I waited eagerly for each new addition to the story. And, in the seventh book, he completely destroyed the beauty and marvel of the story he had crafted. Just completely destroyed it. It’s one of those things I never forgive him for. Sad thing is that discussing this with you now makes me want to go back and read The Dark Tower again. NOOOOOOOO!!!!!!

  2. sknicholls August 14, 2013 at 9:40 pm

    I think genre has everything in the world to do with motivations to buy as a reader. People don’t go for human interest stories like they once did. In the 1970s non-fiction novels were all the rage and they are making a comeback, slowly. It is now called “faction” and Amazon doesn’t even have a category for it beyond historical fiction (which it is not always). I have great reviews from sells and a free promotional, but not getting nearly the sells that I would like to see. My book only downloaded 52 copies on a free weekend. Try not only crossing genre, but crossing fiction/non-fiction lines. People want horror and thrillers and fantasy…they want an escape from reality. They want a real brain challenge. They don’t want to read about something that happened 50 years ago, even if it is pertinent to the present…they are trying to avoid the present by reading. My work in progress is a murder mystery. I have my revisions and paperback to finish up with Red Clay and Roses, and then I am focused on the WIPs.

  3. Anonymous August 15, 2013 at 1:41 pm

    You probably already know this, but I’ve noticed that people download freebies because well…they’re free, fully intending to read them…someday. Those downloads become part of the “reading stack” that will probably never be read and reviewed because they aren’t a high enough priority. My Kindle is full of them. That being said, I got two people to download Weed Therapy and have asked them to write reviews. We’ll see. I’ve ordered the paperback and am anxiously awaiting it. Based on the excerpts I’ve read, I think I’ll really like it and will post a review on Amazon. Maybe literary fiction isn’t a popular genre, but it’s my favorite. Good luck. I hope you figure out the magic formula. 🙂

    • kingmidget August 15, 2013 at 8:47 pm

      Thank you, whoever you are. I completely agree with you about the free downloads adding to the reading stack. Thanks for your efforts on my behalf. We’ll see what happens in the months ahead.

  4. deborahbrasket August 16, 2013 at 7:16 am

    I hear your frustration. I hear it with other indie authors. You’re not alone. And as someone not there yet, I really appreciate your frankness about this mystifying field.

  5. Jade Reyner August 17, 2013 at 8:41 am

    Thank you so much for posting this and it is reassuring that it is not just me seeing these frustrations. I did the free download weekend with some marketing (nothing on the scale of your efforts) and got 900 downloads and then since then, I think I have sold about 3 books! And it is priced at £0.77 in the UK and whatever the exchange rate is in your neck of the woods. I have just tried to tidy up my blurb (which you pointed out to me a while ago) and have fiddled with the categories and the search words but I have absolutely no idea what the formula is either! I shall do what you are doing and keep on writing and cross everything that I can – the trouble is that if you don’t hit a ‘list’ of some description then you are never really visible and I have no idea how you become visible.

    • kingmidget August 17, 2013 at 10:16 am

      The other problem I have is that I don’t have books that logically lead from one to another. A legal thriller followed by an introspective, mid-life crisis, soul searching, life lesson-teaching jaunt — well readers of the one won’t necessarily follow to the other.

  6. Theryn August 29, 2013 at 12:59 pm

    I ran across a link to this on a publishing blog I read. While it’s a local thing (so not directly applicable to you), maybe there’s something similar near you? Fits with both your desire to promote/sell your books and to spend more time offline.

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