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Selling Self-Published Books: The Amazing Amazon

17 May

May is How To Sell Self-Published Books Month here on Catherine, Caffeinated. Last week I poured a bucket of ice-cold water over your dreams in Read This First (which, thanks to Freshly Pressed, is the most popular post ever on this blog), and then explained why I think you should go guns blazing for the launch of each book instead of waiting until you’ve a few to sell in One at a Time. This week I’m presenting my Not So Scientific Theory of How Self-Publishers Can Use Social Media to Get Amazon to Sell Their Books, which is based on how I think I’ve managed to sell my own books over the last couple of years. You can catch up here

In Newly Self-Published Book World, everything is going to plan. We’ve built an online platform, make some blogging and tweeting friends and launched our book in a week of virtual celebrations—and all without annoying the guy who has been reading our blog posts from day one only because he enjoys cyber-stalking us. (Although come to think of it, it might be alright to annoy him.) You’ve done an awful lot of work already, but the real slog is only just beginning. Because now you have to keep the momentum going. Now you have to make sure your book can tread water for long enough that its head always stays above the water line on Amazon, instead of sinking down into the black depths of the abyss where not even the most determined Kindle owner will ever find it.

The Amazing Amazon

Very few self-publishers manage to sell books without focusing on Amazon, and fewer still manage to sell books without relying on Amazon at all. (I can only think of one self-publisher who’s been a success on Smashwords alone.) Now some self-pubbers get their knickers all in a twist about getting into bed with such a capitalistic juggernaut of a corporation, but if you don’t like it, don’t do it. But really don’t do it. At all. If you hate Amazon and like to blame them for crushing brick-and-mortar bookstores, complain about them making oodles of cash off you, the poor writer, and believe that when the four horsemen of the Apocalypse appear, they’ll arrive packed in an Amazon-branded brown box, then don’t self-publish your book with them. It gives me a pain in my eyeballs when self-publishers moan about the company who has allowed them to sell their work on the biggest online book store on the planet, promptly sends them the proceeds by cheque once a month and, in some cases (including my own) enables them to make a living without leaving the house. Without even getting dressed, some days.

(Okay, most days.)

It’s either complain and don’t publish, or publish. This isn’t a pick ‘n’ mix. And anyway chances are those knickers you’re getting in a twist have a corporate logo’s label sewn into the back of them, unless you made them yourself.

(Ew.)

So quit your whining and let’s get to work.

All Roads Lead to Amazon

The aim is to send everyone who wants to buy your book to Amazon, because here, if a tree falls in the woods it always makes a sound. A sale increases your visibility on the site, which increases the chances of someone else discovering it, which increases the chances of another sale. A sale leads to a sale, if you’re lucky.

This is easy to do: make every link to a place where your book is for sale a link to Amazon. If you have a list of places, for instance, where you can buy the e-book versions of your books, list all the Amazon sites first. If someone wants to buy your paperback, encourage them to go to Amazon—not your CreateSpace e-store, or Lulu’s website. If you want to be really strict about it, don’t order any stock to sell to family and friends and get them to buy your book online instead. But only on Amazon, naturally.

My Amazon Author page.

Get an Author Page

Go to authorcentral.amazon.com and sign up for an Amazon Author account. Then go to authorcentral.amazon.co.uk and do the same there. An Amazon Author page is essentially a page of your own on Amazon where you have an opportunity to share some information about yourself, add a feed to your blog and Twitter account, list upcoming events and even upload videos and photos. It also gives the customer somewhere to go where they can see all your books listed together.

Which is great. But that’s not the real reason we’re signing up for Amazon Author Central.

The product listing for In the Woods by Tana French. Yes, the reviews are great, but what’s the book about? The blurb is buried towards the end. Click to see a larger image.

Maximize Your Listing

A few months ago I attended a talk by an editor of literary fiction and during it, she shared her thoughts on self-publishing. One of the things she recommended self-publishers to do is to hire a professional copywriter to prepare their “blurb text” for them, i.e. the description that goes on the back of your book and, subsequently, appears on your Amazon listing. She said that once that had been entered it couldn’t be changed, and that it went out to every catalogue, online retailers, etc. and remained the first thing the potential reader read about that book forever more. She said that as it often had to be done well in advance and sometimes even before the book was completely finished, it was the most difficult aspect of publishing a book to get exactly right.

Listening to this, I could barely keep the grin off my face. Because I knew that, on Amazon at least, you can change this information whenever you want, however often you want. And you can add stuff to it. And you can even put in some formatting. Because through your Amazon Author Central account, you can add to, subtract from and endlessly update your product listing.

This is an area where—for once!—I’m going to call out traditional publishing for getting it wrong. It’s easy to see why they get it wrong: they have hundreds if not thousands of authors to worry about, whereas the self-publisher can devote as much time as they’d like to fine-tuning all aspects of their own books. But that doesn’t matter. What matters is that this, along with things like release schedule and pricing, is where you, the self-publisher, has the edge. You can make your listing stand out, and make it look better than its traditionally published peers.

My Backpacked listing, after I used Author Central to spruce it up. Click for larger.

Through Author Central, you can:

  • Edit your product description (the blurb). You have a lot of space for this, I think 4,000 characters, but don’t be tempted to use it all. Or even use half of it. A short, snappy description of no more than 300 words is ideal. You can also use italics and bold formatting, which you can’t do when you’re entering this stuff from the back end in KDP or CreateSpace. Use sparingly, but definitely use.
  • Add editorial reviews. These are extracts from reviews written by trusted sources, e.g. bestselling authors, respected individuals in their field (for non-fiction) and book review sites and book bloggers. DO NOT put quotes from Amazon customer reviews here; they mean nothing and make you look like an amateur.
  • Add an “About the Author.”
  • Add a “From the Author.” This can be a little spiel about why you wrote the book, or what makes you a good person to write it (for non-fiction).

Editorial reviews and my About the Author on Backpacked‘s listing. Click for larger.

Seeing Other People

Next week I’ll be posting about KDP Select, which enrolls your book in the Kindle Owners Lending Library and lets you promote your book as free for up to five days out of every ninety. To do this, you have to give your e-book exclusively to Amazon for the whole ninety days. You can’t even have a PDF download from your own website, and of course Smashwords is out.

It’s not a good idea to put all your eggs in Amazon’s basket, but I think doing it for a short space of time is okay and might actually be beneficial in the long run. I’m releasing my next book in November, and this is my plan for it:

  • Exclusive to Amazon for 3 months so I can enroll in KDP Select. I’m thinking I might offer it as free for the first 3 days of its life, so my blog readers, Twitter followers, newsletter subscribers, etc.—who’ll be the first to hear about it—will get a chance to read it for free in exchange for putting up with me for all this time. Also it’ll be my third travel memoir, the third in the series, so the 3 days ties in. Clever, eh?
  • It will only be available in e-book for those same three months, or until the end of January 2013-ish if I’m releasing in November. Think of the e-book like the hardback; it’s main purpose is to build momentum that will hopefully translate into sales when the paperback comes out later. Also I’ll have a few paychecks from the e-book before I have to pay for things like a full paperback cover, proof copies, etc.
  • At the end of the ninety days exclusivity with Amazon, I’ll upload the books to Smashwords for full distribution and release the paperback.

(NB: Of course on other online retailers like Barnes and Noble and iBooks, there is also an argument for sales leading to more sales. But it is much easier to do it on Amazon, where—for now, anyway—the majority of e-book readers are browsing for their next buy. And you have Amazon Author Central to help enhance your listing, which you don’t have on the other sites. And you have KDP Select. So for a starting off point on this selling books adventure, you can’t make a better friend than Bezos.)

In order to blog about KDP Select next week, I’ve been experimenting with it this week and last. Today my novel Results Not Typical, goes free on all Kindle stores for five days. Download it, tell your friends, etc. etc. It’s a satire about an evil slimming company and what happens to them when one of their prototypes goes missing. Let’s just say I’ve done plenty of research. And it comes with a Backpacked preview. Download it from Amazon.com here and from Amazon.co.uk here.

Tomorrow: things like paid advertising, bonus material and mailing lists. Basically all the things that will have you tugging on the pants leg of the person who just finished one of your books, wailing “Don’t forget about me, okay?”.

UPDATE: Due to a technical issue, by “tomorrow” I mean Saturday evening. And by “technical issue” I mean “I lost the blog post after re-instating the wrong revision and don’t have time to re-do it until I settle down to watch The Voice on Saturday evening.”

Get it by e-mail by subscribing to this blog or follow me on Twitter (@cathryanhoward) for links. 

Grammar Geography: The Results

8 Feb

Last Friday I asked you, lovely internet folk, to help me make a decision on whether or not I should use British or US English in my set-in-New-York-but-written-by-an-Irish-gal novel. You can read the original post here. My question was: what should be the deciding factor in whether a book is written in British English or US English?

The problem is that my novel, Results Not Typical, is written in British English, i.e. it’s organised in there, not organized. BUT the story is set in New York, so I used American words, i.e. trunk instead of boot. BUT I didn’t always use American words, because one of my main characters continually says Mum instead of Mom—and that’s becausehonestly, I didn’t even flag it. I didn’t know. My mistake. BUT would US readers—who are my biggest readers—be confused by a book that for all intents and purposes seems to be as American as apple pie (ignoring the Mum/Mom debacle for a second; let’s pretend I’ve already fixed it) but is written in British English? Would it be better if I just went all in? BUT I’m Irish, so why should I? Can’t I write in my own language? Wouldn’t it have been so much easier to not set a book in the States?

The only one of those questions I know the answer to for sure is the last one, and it’s yes. But as it was too late for that, I had to find answers to the other ones too. So I asked you, and here’s what you said*.

Would you say that grammar geography is something that matters to you, as a reader?

Click for a larger image.

What should be the BIGGEST deciding factor in whether US or British English is used?

Click for a larger image.

It is likely to affect your reading experience?

Click for a larger image.

And here’s some other interesting things you said about it:

  • “I would feel slighted if someone from over the pond “dumbed down” their work in order to make it “easier” for me to understand. Isn’t that part of what reading is about? Learning something new? For instance, when I heard the title of the first Harry Potter book, it drove me nuts. What’s wrong with the word philosopher? I was insulted that the publisher’s thought we Americans haven’t heard of the Philosopher’s Stone.” –Virginia
  • “I’ve been thinking about this aspect of language in my work in progress, and have come to the conclusion that writing in an idiom that isn’t your own can have a detrimental effect. It’s very easy for the language to sound a bit unnatural, unless you’re good at switching between the two.” – Paris Franz
  • “I recently opened a book by a US author which was set in the UK and his use of sidewalk/sick/color annoyed me greatly.” — Bellareview
  • “Americans aren’t distracted by spelling and grammar much, but I would be very dismayed to see an American character using British words unless she lived here and had adapted.” –KathyF
  • “The deciding factor should be the character’s nationality, not the author’s or the setting … The narrative can be in British English, but the goal is to make your characters as believable as possible. Anything that makes readers think, “She wouldn’t say/do that!” distracts them from the story.” –Pop Culture Nerd
  • “If it’s too painful to learn something new, then that book isn’t for you. Alternate spelling exist. Different cultures exist. Live with it.” – Catana
  • “I think a person has to be true to their geographical character. It helps with the suspension of disbelief. That said, an error in colloquialism shouldn’t ruin a person’s reading experience.” –jelillie
  • “It has taken me out of the story when I’ve read characters using words they generally would not. For example, an American character wearing a “vest” to her yoga class (novel set in America, by British author). Now I knew the author didn’t mean “that” kind of vest (i.e. a 3 button-thingy to wear with a suit jacket or 80′s getup involving acid-washed jeans and hair scrunchies), but it felt like author intrusion to me. But if a story is otherwise well-crafted, it doesn’t bother me too much.” –sydneycarroll
  • “It jars horribly with me when I read characters who are supposed to be British, working in Britain and doing things like taking a toll-road or freeway, going to the drugstore or cleaning the silverware from the table.” –Cameron Lawton.

So I think this is what we could all decide upon, in the end:

  • The spelling and grammar should be the author’s own, unless the author is prepared to write for his or her biggest audience. (It is less distracting for a non-US audience to read US English than it is for a US audience to read non-US English, thanks to television, etc. so writing for your US readers is a viable option.)
  • The words or vocabulary used by a character should be determined by where the character is from, because fiction is about getting readers to believe that the world you’ve made up is real and true. When my character, supposedly born and raised in New York State, said “Mum”, it wasn’t believable. Likewise if you had a Londoner speaking in Dublin slang, it wouldn’t ring true. So, the character speaks like they’re supposed to speak, regardless of where the person who invented them is from.
  • If a character is saying things they shouldn’t, it negatively impacts the reader experience, so this is definitely something the writer has to be aware of. I know this point may sound obvious, but I didn’t think of the whole Mom/Mum thing, now did I?

What I’ve decided to do is go through Results again making sure that although the spelling is British English, all the words used are as realistic as they can be. I’m sure it won’t be 100% authentic because I’m not from the States, but why do I feel like Amazon Customer Reviews will help me out if I get anything wrong…?

[Smiley face]

Click here to find out more about Results Not Typical, just 99c in the Kindle store.

*I wrote this post on Sunday February 5th, three days after the original post was published and taking into account approximately 60 responses. Therefore the percentages may differ from what appears on the post now, if more people have responded since. 

Results Not Typical: Now FREE on Kindle!

26 Dec

I can assure you that I’m nowhere near my blog today; St. Stephen’s Day (what we Irish call the Day After Christmas) is just as major a day as the one before. So all going to plan, I am currently still asleep/unconscious in a post-carb coma, but gearing up for an evening of turkey and ham sandwiches, TV specials and From The Sky Down, the documentary film about U2 making Achtung Baby that I bought my brother for Christmas that I conveniently wanted to see myself too.

The reason I’ve scheduled this post is to let you know that my novel, Results Not Typical, is now FREE on Kindle.

And it has a beautiful new, sparkly cover designed (as always) by the talented Andrew Brown of Design for Writers. You can read about why I changed this cover and why I changed it to something like this in last Friday’s blog post.

If you’re not familiar, Results Not Typical is the story of an evil weight loss company called Slimmit, infamous for their “Where the Fat IS Your Fault!” slogan and Ultimate Weight Loss Diet Solution Zone System diet, and what happens to them when the master formula for their latest revolutionary product, Lipid Loser, is stolen. It’s The Devil Wears Prada meets Weightwatchers and chick-lit meets corporate satire, and based on my professional status as a yo-yo dieter. You can find out more about it here, see it on Amazon.com here or see it on Amazon.co.uk here.

Results Not Typical is one of the 20 books longlisted for Trashionista’s Favorite Books of 2011. The top 10 will be decided by public vote so if you’ve already read it and liked it (or you read it before December 31st and like it!), please pop over there to cast yours. Some friends of this blog, including Talli Roland and Maria Duffy, are also nominated, so do take a second to take a look.

If you’re a new (or upgraded) Kindle owner looking for something to read, I also have two travel memoirs:

and I can highly recommend the following self-published or small press e-books by friends of this blog:

All links go to Amazon.com, but you’ll find these titles in all Kindle stores.

Nicola Morgan has also assembled a list of great titles for teenagers who found Kindles under the tree.

Results Not Typical will be free to download in all Kindle stores until midnight on December 28th. New cover, free price—it’ll all be explained in a later post. Until then, rest assured that it is, as ever, all part of a dastardly plan…

Another part of my dastardly plan: pointing out that using the “E-mail” share button below, you could e-mail this post to any new Kindle owners you know, you know…

*evil grin*

See you in the New Year!

Judge a Book By Its Cover? RESULTS Gets a New One

23 Dec

You all know how much I love my Results Not Typical cover, and if you don’t it’s a lot. Green is associated with health and dieting, and that exact green is the color that Slimmit (the fictional company in the book) use in their branding – in my imagination, at least. The title font captures the spirit of the book perfectly and is big enough to survive in an e-book cover, and we managed to get across the subject matter of the book without resorting to putting any photographs of skinny women on there. It’s a cover that can be easily changed enough to go on the next book in the series while still maintaining a cohesive brand.

It’s a cover that stands out, especially since we avoided the whole pastel pink, cartoon, swirly writing chick-lit cover extravaganza that always makes me think of too-sweet candy floss and Pepto-Bismol.

That sentence right there encapsulates why I began to let my personal feelings cloud my judgement and override the facts, which ultimately led to me making a decision about my cover that involved just one person (me) when it should’ve involved millions of people, i.e. the women who might like to read Results Not Typical.

I had a thing against pinky-pink chick-lit covers. In my defense, this was because whenever my eye fell on a stack of them in a bookshop, they all seemed utterly indiscernible from one another. Most of them could’ve swapped covers and still been okay. Many of them could also have swapped titles. Neither the cover design nor the title seemed in any way specific to any book, and it turned me right off the thought of ever reading any of them.

I also resented the fact that as a woman, I was expected to be attracted to pink. But my resentment was as ironic as that Alanis Morrisette song was not (which, perhaps, is the irony…? *brain ache*), because I love, love, LOVE pink. I really do. Half the clothes in my wardrobe are somewhere near it, my first iPod was a gorgeous shade of dusty pink and my bedroom is decorated in shades of pink and purple. I even have a pink leather laptop bag.

And have you seen my blog?

So why was I getting my (pink?) knickers in a twist over pink book covers? (And I should say here that I’m of course not just talking about chick-lit covers that are literally pink, but all those that have swirly-writing, a cartoon woman and a color that suggests something girly and fun.) I really don’t know. But I started to change my mind about it a few months back when I started coming across some book covers that ticked all the chick-lit boxes, but yet really appealed to me. Beautiful covers like these:

What information about the book inside do you get from these covers? I see hints that the novels inside are going to be entertaining, possibly funny, a good few hours of escapism, about hopes, dreams and love, and fun. Fun, fun, fun. FUN! And the reason they have elements in common is because if you read and liked From Notting Hill With Love Actually (which I did; I reviewed it here), then chances are The Night Before Christmas will float your boat too, or at least be in with a chance of doing so. These covers aren’t saying anything about women – they’re only saying things about what’s in the book. And by their visual similarity, however small, they help each other out by letting readers know if you liked x, you’ll probably like this.

Plus they’d all look gorgeous on my purple book shelf in my pink room.

(Yes, my book shelves are purple. Jealous?)

The number one message about Results Not Typical that I want to get across to potential readers of it was: this book is fun. The number two message I want to get across is: this book is for women, and the third is this book is about something most of us can relate to: dieting. But yet instead of choosing a type of cover that would instantly convey these three vital points, I chose something that I liked, that I felt conveyed what the book was about. But you know what? I know what the book is about – I wrote it! So am I really the best judge of whether or not the cover conveys what’s inside? Possibly not. Probably not. Therefore instead of indulging myself, I should have been guided by the same principles that guided the designers of the covers of the books – the bestselling books – above. I should’ve put a girly-girl, swirly-writing cartoon cover on it, because I am a girly-girl, and I like swirly writing and cartoons. And I wrote the book I wanted to read, so surely the other women out there who would like this book like those things too?

This wasn’t all hypothetical: the sales of Results reflected that I’d made a mistake. They do reflect this. I promised, back when I started chronicling my self-publishing adventures on this blog, that I’d share both the successes and failures, and so I’ll be blogging about this in detail in the New Year. But in the meantime, I’ve decided to change the cover of Results‘ e-book edition. Something isn’t working, and I think it’s the green cover. My Amazon product listing is as good as it can be—clear and enticing blurb, three glowing and qualified endorsements, links to my other books—and the price is sofa change, i.e. 99c.

When I first thought of changing the cover, I toyed with the idea of an original illustration. I found out the name of the illustrator who did one of the traditionally-published covers above, and daydreamed about commissioning from her a new, girly-girl, fun – FUN! –  Results Not Typical cover. But at the time I’d just put two books to bed and owed hundreds in editing and cover design fees. Who knows how much an original illustration from such an in-demand, talented artist would cost, but I was guessing it would be more than I had, and more than I, at that point, wanted to sink into a book that I wasn’t even making bus fare off of. And what, if after all that, the problem wasn’t the cover? What if the book just didn’t appeal? What if I had no chance of ever getting that money back?

I decided to conduct a little experiment. Test the waters, so to speak. I would try changing the cover into something more affordable—something girly, fun and cartoony (i.e. not photos), but affordable—and see if it made any difference. I e-mailed my cover designer extraordinaire, Andrew Brown of Design for Writers, and explained the situation. I sent him some of the covers above and a bit of a brief, and here’s what he came up with:

Isn’t it pretty? Isn’t it just adorable? Look at that font! Do you see the little sparkles?

And do you see how well it goes with my blog? You know how I love me some color co-ordination.

I love it. Love it, love it, LOVE it.

What do you think?

I’ve uploaded it to Amazon and have a couple of other tricks up my sleeve for Results, which again, I’ll be blogging about in the New Year. But I’m calling this Operation Booster Rocket, and my mission is to get Results selling at a level near or at least closer to that of my other books.

Wish me luck!

(I’ve just uploaded it, so if you go to Amazon the old cover might still be there, and the paperback will still have the green one, for now anyway.)

REPLAY 2011: Why I Might Stop Self-Publishing Paperbacks

20 Dec

Between now and the end of the year I’m going to be using Tuesdays and Thursdays to replay some popular posts from 2011, in case some of the people who’ve discovered my blog in the meantime missed it first time round. Think of it as a “year in review” kind of thing. (Or a “I’m trying to finish the first draft of a new book and so I don’t have time to write five new blog posts a week” kind of thing…) This post proved very popular when I first published it back in October, although I think some of the comment-leavers at the time didn’t quite get what I was getting it.

This is not a post about problems I have that I’m trying to solve; I’m not looking for solutions or suggestions on how I can overcome these problems. I’m saying I see a day when I won’t self-publish paperbacks at all, just e-books, that day is coming soon, and I’m fine with that. This isn’t something that makes me sad; it’s something I look forward to, because it’ll be less work and the majority of my sales are in e-book anyway. Will I keep buying and reading paperbacks almost exclusively? Yes. Do I hope that by the time this no-self-published-paperback day comes, I’ll have traditionally published paperbacks on the shelves of some stores? Um, yes. Obviously! But even if that’s not the case, I won’t be giving myself headaches trying to make and sell paperbacks myself.

September was a pretty hectic month at Catherine Self-Publishing HQ. Although I’d set the (purely decorative) release date for Backpacked as September 5th and the release date for Results Not Typical as October 1st, my cunning plan was to get them both out at the start of September, say nothing and then just shine a bright light in their direction whenever their turn came. That way I would be free, theoretically-speaking, to concentrate on writing The New Novel by the end of last month. But self-publishing two books simultaneously had an unexpected side-effect: it showed me – for the first time, really – what a pain in the arse self-publishing can be. Or more accurately, it showed me what a pain in the arse self-publishing is when you self-publish a paperback.

Self-publishing was to me, right from the start, mostly about producing a physical book. At the very beginning, it was only about that. Because that’s what a book was back then. (Ah, back then. Do you even remember November 2009? The Kindle still looked like something Fisher Price made and Hocking hadn’t even self-published.)  I discovered Smashwords while twiddling my online thumbs in the week it took for my CreateSpace proof copy to arrive; when I initially made the decision to self-publish, e-books weren’t even on my radar. When they showed up, they were only ever supposed to be a bonus. Now I’ve sold almost 9,500 books and only about 800 of them were print editions.

But I have, after all, sold 800 of them. Isn’t that better than a slap in the face? Isn’t that actually a great number for a Print-On-Demand paperback, especially when you consider that an outstanding POD paperback success is 200 books, and most authors are lucky to shift more than 10? And it’s not like making a paperback is all that much extra work. You’re making an e-book anyway, so what’s an extra few hours making an interior and adding a back cover to your e-book cover’s front? And even if you never sell any, haven’t you only “lost” the price of your proof copy? And if you do sell some, don’t you only have to sit back and relax while Amazon takes care of everything? Isn’t self-publishing a paperback easy?

Yes, but none of those things are the problem.

When you self-publish, your aim should be to sell as many books as you can, to get as many readers as you can and to improve your standing as a writer as much as you can while spending as little as you can without sacrificing quality or professionalism. But when you add paperbacks to the mix, you don’t do that. At least, I don’t do that. I haven’t. Producing paperbacks and having them available has cost me more money, I’d guess, than selling 800 of them have brought back. And I wouldn’t have had to spend any of that money – or worry about it at all – if I’d been able to say, “Well, actually I won’t be doing that because Mousetrapped [or Backpacked or Results Not Typical] is only available in e-book.”

For instance, stock. You need to get it to send out review copies, to sell books to friends and family, to give books to friends and family, to have at your book launch, to get on a shelf at your local bookshop. But once your hands touch a copy of your POD’d book, chances are you’ve lost money on it. The unit cost of the book is probably cheap enough, but you’ve had to pay to ship it to you. CreateSpace have recently improved the costs of their formerly astronomical shipping charges, but to avail of their economy option you have to be exceptionally organized. Today is Saturday 15th October. I can order 30 books from CreateSpace and get them to Ireland via economy shipping for just $63.99, or just over $2 a book. That’s pretty good. But what’s not pretty good is if I order them today – I’m writing this on Saturday 15th October – they won’t get here until Friday December 9th. That’s two months from now.

You could stomp your feet and say you’re not offering paperback review copies, not bothering with a launch or getting into bookstores, and instruct all your friends and family to order from Amazon (which itself creates another problem which we’ll get to in a minute). But you can only do this if you’re willing to ignore what’s expected of you. If your book is available in both paperback and e-book editions, you should offer reviewers either a paperback or an e-book. I say this as both a self-publisher and a book reviewer who doesn’t read or review e-books. If you don’t do this you look cheap, and you might also potentially offend the reviewer who gets the message that while you want their time and support, you don’t think it’s worth the price of a “real” book. Book launches are easy enough to avoid, but when it comes to friends and family… Well, good luck with that. You’re going to need it.

During last week’s blog tour, I guest-posted on Sally Clements’ blog about the problem of explaining self-publishing to your friends and family. I had a launch for Mousetrapped (for which I had to order stock in for and subsequently made practically no money from the sales on the day) so any of my relatives who wanted a copy simply showed up and bought one. I also left a few copies in store so if anyone couldn’t attend, they could pop in there later and buy one then. For Backpacked, there was no launch and I didn’t want to order in 50 books at my own expense if I didn’t know that I was going to be able to shift them. Then I had what I thought was a great idea. The easiest way to estimate how many friends and family members would want to buy a copy of Backpacked was to get a list together, right? Ask around and find who wanted copies and how many of them they’d like. But this would be difficult to organize and I suspected that despite best intentions, some people would order Backpacked and then not pay for it when it arrived. So I opened a website where the people I know could go to pre-pay for however many copies of Backpacked they wanted. This not only meant that I’d order just the amount I needed, but it also meant that I’d have the money to pay for them outright and nobody could order in a copy without paying. (I also opened it up to the world, charging a bit extra to cover shipping; this was the Backpacked pre-order bookstore.) I circulated e-mails, told my parents to spread the word and pasted it all over Facebook. But no one understood what was happening. My friends and family didn’t get that this was their only opportunity to order a paperback of Backpacked, that this time there wouldn’t be a launch or copies in a bookshop or a stack of them in my house if all else failed. The bookshop closed without a single order from anyone I knew; every single book sold through it was destined for faraway shores. “It’s okay,” was the reaction when I explained – again – what was happening. “We’ll get it from Amazon.co.uk.”

Except they couldn’t, because self-publishing paperbacks brings yet another problem: availability, or lack thereof. You have almost no control over where you POD’d paperback appears available for sale. I’ve paid for the expanded distribution upgrade, CreateSpace’s “Pro Plan” ($39) on each of my titles, but only one of them is available directly through Amazon.co.uk. I always order from Amazon.com – where your book will always be – but there’s a shockingly large number of people who think you have to live in the United States to do that. And there’s another problem with selling POD paperbacks: they cost a lot. I had to charge $16.95 for the paperback edition of Results Not Typical just so I wouldn’t lose money. I’d never pay that much for a paperback myself, and I don’t expect to sell any of them. (And I haven’t even mentioned the book to most of my relatives…) If you are a fan of mine and you bought Mousetrapped on Amazon.co.uk for $14.95, are you still going to be fan when the only way you can get my newest book in print is by paying more than that, buying from a site on the other side of Atlantic and picking up some higher than normal shipping fees on the way? Or would you just not bother? I know I wouldn’t.

All of this could’ve been avoided if I’d just self-published e-books.

Which is why I might do it in the future. I could say to reviewers, “I only have an e-book – it’s not that I’m being cheap!” and save myself not only the unit costs of those complimentary books, but the cost of shipping them to me, shipping them to the reviewer and the envelope. No one would expect a launch and you can’t really put e-books in stores (well you can, strictly-speaking, but we’ll talk about that another day), and as hardly any of my friends or family have e-book readers, I just wouldn’t even bother telling them. If they want to read my books, they can buy a Kindle and figure out how to use it. When you publish an e-book with Smashwords, Amazon KDP or Lulu, your book becomes available where they say it’s going to become available, and those places cover all major e-book formats, e-reading devices, countries, planets, etc. There’s no shipping on e-books, no need to worry if the list price covers the manufacturing costs, no way to lose money. You can only make money from e-books.

This isn’t a random photo of a Gu Blueberry Cheesecake. I ate it while I was writing this post.

And it wouldn’t affect my sales. If someone doesn’t read my book because they only read paperbacks, so be it. There’s enough people who’ll happily read e-books to make this a non-issue.

There’s one other reason why I’d consider this e-book only route. I hope, some day, to be traditionally published. But I also hope that I can continue to self-publish alongside any traditionally-published books of mine. However I don’t want to be competing with my own publisher, and I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t offer me a contract if they thought I was competing with them. Therefore there would need to be a differentiation, clear and recognizable, between the two and I think self-publishing only in e-books would be a good way to do it.

Of course, I might never have this problem, and if I don’t I’ll be crying into my Cornflakes.

But anyway.

Fear not: I’m not about to run off and unpublish all my paperbacks and Self-Printed, which I personally think is best read in paperback form and judging by its sales breakdown between print and e-book editions, you agree, will always remain available in a physical form.

But not selling paperbacks is definitely something I’m seriously considering for the future.

Obviously I’ll still have to make paperbacks of any future books just for myself, because as we all know I’m not a fan of e-books. (Not of reading them anyway.)

There just might come a day when I do that in secret.

RESULTS NOT TYPICAL Blog Tour Digest Week 3: It’s Over!

21 Oct

Well you’ll all be glad to hear that the 16-stop Results Not Typical blog tour is now – drum roll, please – OVER!

Yes, it’s safe to open your Google Reader again! But only if you’ve already bought Results Not Typical because if you haven’t it’ll automatically shut down and then send a list of the last twenty-five websites you visited to everyone in your contact list, and we all know that Perez Hilton is in there more than once, don’t we?

Okay so that won’t happen, but the tour is over and here’s where I’ve been during the last week:

I was also interviewed by the lovely Leah on the new look Chick Lit Reviews and News (formerly Chick Lit Reviews); you can read the interview here. By clicking the blog tour graphic (this way —–>) you can see all the stops and there’s some self-publishing guest posts in there so do go have a look. I’d like to thank all my lovely, lovely hosts: Jane, Maria, Laura, Nicola, Alison, Emma, Sally, Lindsay, Mel, Ellen, Keris, Shannon & Toni, Jorden, Rebecca E., Rebecca B. and Talli. Thank you SO much! I wish you love and bubbles and cute puppies and stuff.

Some people like to reward themselves for working hard. I like to do the rewarding in advance.

In other news, I’m still in a faraway mysterious place supposedly writing, so the Twitter neglect continues. A friend is coming to visit in 10 days’ time and I have to have a certain amount done by then or else… well, or else nothing happens but I will be a) behind and b) drowning in an endless depth of not-writing guilt. This endeavor should be helped somewhat by a biblical thunderstorm Wednesday night that has left Sky News, my one English channel (guess who knows way too much about the Jackson trial?), green and shaky like the TVs at the start of Independence Day. So now all I have to do is ruin my The West Wing Seasons 1-5 DVDs (Danny has just told CJ that he knows a guy in Bermuda who met some US Rangers at the airstrip and Josh is upset because Donna ran off to spend Christmas with Christian Slater instead of staying with him to work and Zoe has just shown up with that French guy–) and I’ll be all set.

In other other news, you should all know by now that I use Andrew Brown of Design for Writers (who doesn’t have a proper website yet – which is something I’m going to kill him about soon; I know chances are you’re reading this Andrew so I’ll say again: all this praise and publicity is not getting maximized by a place holder!) for all my cover designs and more recently, blog tour graphics. Well after seeing my (gorgeous!) Results Not Typical cover, Steven Lewis of Taleist decided to go to him as well for the redesign of his “How To” series of books. And wow oh wow oh wow.

They look fantastic. (They look so fantastic I am posting a picture of a potential competitor’s book on my blog!) I especially love the cover of How To Format Perfect Kindle Books because it subtly references the Amazon colors. Andrew also did the cover for Nicola Morgan‘s Tweet Right: The Sensible Person’s Guide to Twitter, which was another home run. And he did Self-Printed, all the Self-Printed Shorts, Mousetrapped and BackpackedAnd if you think he only does great non-fiction covers, you must have missed the bit where I said he did Results Not Typical. Need a reasonably-priced, professional cover designer for your self-published book? Stop right there because you’ve found him. Well, not right here. Pop over to Design for Writers or shoot them an e-mail. You know what I mean…

I’m the short round-faced one, and John is to the right of me in a blue shirt with a black T-shirt underneath. (That level of detail is more memory than evidential, yes!) As you can see we were going CRAAAAAZY. And Adam Clayton is quite the attractive man.

In other other other and potential irrelevant news, you may recall my brother and I going to a U2 concert in Croke Park (Dublin) in July 2009. Well, yesterday he sent me a message to let me know that he’d – SOMEHOW – spotted our little faces in a YouTube video of Get On Your Boots from that night. Whaaa….? How funny is that?! As I said, John (my brother), who is the world’s biggest U2 fan, can now say he’s had his photo taken with Bono. His friends pointed out that Bono can now say he’s had his photo taken with him. Either way, how short am I?!

So that’s all folks. For this week, anyway. Have a good weekend and come back Monday for some e-book pricing news.

Why I Might Stop Self-Publishing Paperbacks

17 Oct

September was a pretty hectic month at Catherine Self-Publishing HQ. Although I’d set the (purely decorative) release date for Backpacked as September 5th and the release date for Results Not Typical as October 1st, my cunning plan was to get them both out at the start of September, say nothing and then just shine a bright light in their direction whenever their turn came. That way I would be free, theoretically-speaking, to concentrate on writing The New Novel by the end of last month. But self-publishing two books simultaneously had an unexpected side-effect: it showed me – for the first time, really – what a pain in the arse self-publishing can be. Or more accurately, it showed me what a pain in the arse self-publishing is when you self-publish a paperback.

Self-publishing was to me, right from the start, mostly about producing a physical book. At the very beginning, it was only about that. Because that’s what a book was back then. (Ah, back then. Do you even remember November 2009? The Kindle still looked like something Fisher Price made and Hocking hadn’t even self-published.)  I discovered Smashwords while twiddling my online thumbs in the week it took for my CreateSpace proof copy to arrive; when I initially made the decision to self-publish, e-books weren’t even on my radar. When they showed up, they were only ever supposed to be a bonus. Now I’ve sold almost 9,500 books and only about 800 of them were print editions.

But I have, after all, sold 800 of them. Isn’t that better than a slap in the face? Isn’t that actually a great number for a Print-On-Demand paperback, especially when you consider that an outstanding POD paperback success is 200 books, and most authors are lucky to shift more than 10? And it’s not like making a paperback is all that much extra work. You’re making an e-book anyway, so what’s an extra few hours making an interior and adding a back cover to your e-book cover’s front? And even if you never sell any, haven’t you only “lost” the price of your proof copy? And if you do sell some, don’t you only have to sit back and relax while Amazon takes care of everything? Isn’t self-publishing a paperback easy?

Yes, but none of those things are the problem.

When you self-publish, your aim should be to sell as many books as you can, to get as many readers as you can and to improve your standing as a writer as much as you can while spending as little as you can without sacrificing quality or professionalism. But when you add paperbacks to the mix, you don’t do that. At least, I don’t do that. I haven’t. Producing paperbacks and having them available has cost me more money, I’d guess, than selling 800 of them have brought back. And I wouldn’t have had to spend any of that money – or worry about it at all – if I’d been able to say, “Well, actually I won’t be doing that because Mousetrapped [or Backpacked or Results Not Typical] is only available in e-book.”

For instance, stock. You need to get it to send out review copies, to sell books to friends and family, to give books to friends and family, to have at your book launch, to get on a shelf at your local bookshop. But once your hands touch a copy of your POD’d book, chances are you’ve lost money on it. The unit cost of the book is probably cheap enough, but you’ve had to pay to ship it to you. CreateSpace have recently improved the costs of their formerly astronomical shipping charges, but to avail of their economy option you have to be exceptionally organized. Today is Saturday 15th October. I can order 30 books from CreateSpace and get them to Ireland via economy shipping for just $63.99, or just over $2 a book. That’s pretty good. But what’s not pretty good is if I order them today – I’m writing this on Saturday 15th October – they won’t get here until Friday December 9th. That’s two months from now.

You could stomp your feet and say you’re not offering paperback review copies, not bothering with a launch or getting into bookstores, and instruct all your friends and family to order from Amazon (which itself creates another problem which we’ll get to in a minute). But you can only do this if you’re willing to ignore what’s expected of you. If your book is available in both paperback and e-book editions, you should offer reviewers either a paperback or an e-book. I say this as both a self-publisher and a book reviewer who doesn’t read or review e-books. If you don’t do this you look cheap, and you might also potentially offend the reviewer who gets the message that while you want their time and support, you don’t think it’s worth the price of a “real” book. Book launches are easy enough to avoid, but when it comes to friends and family… Well, good luck with that. You’re going to need it.

During last week’s blog tour, I guest-posted on Sally Clements’ blog about the problem of explaining self-publishing to your friends and family. I had a launch for Mousetrapped (for which I had to order stock in for and subsequently made practically no money from the sales on the day) so any of my relatives who wanted a copy simply showed up and bought one. I also left a few copies in store so if anyone couldn’t attend, they could pop in there later and buy one then. For Backpacked, there was no launch and I didn’t want to order in 50 books at my own expense if I didn’t know that I was going to be able to shift them. Then I had what I thought was a great idea. The easiest way to estimate how many friends and family members would want to buy a copy of Backpacked was to get a list together, right? Ask around and find who wanted copies and how many of them they’d like. But this would be difficult to organize and I suspected that despite best intentions, some people would order Backpacked and then not pay for it when it arrived. So I opened a website where the people I know could go to pre-pay for however many copies of Backpacked they wanted. This not only meant that I’d order just the amount I needed, but it also meant that I’d have the money to pay for them outright and nobody could order in a copy without paying. (I also opened it up to the world, charging a bit extra to cover shipping; this was the Backpacked pre-order bookstore.) I circulated e-mails, told my parents to spread the word and pasted it all over Facebook. But no one understood what was happening. My friends and family didn’t get that this was their only opportunity to order a paperback of Backpacked, that this time there wouldn’t be a launch or copies in a bookshop or a stack of them in my house if all else failed. The bookshop closed without a single order from anyone I knew; every single book sold through it was destined for faraway shores. “It’s okay,” was the reaction when I explained – again – what was happening. “We’ll get it from Amazon.co.uk.”

Except they couldn’t, because self-publishing paperbacks brings yet another problem: availability, or lack thereof. You have almost no control over where you POD’d paperback appears available for sale. I’ve paid for the expanded distribution upgrade, CreateSpace’s “Pro Plan” ($39) on each of my titles, but only one of them is available directly through Amazon.co.uk. I always order from Amazon.com – where your book will always be – but there’s a shockingly large number of people who think you have to live in the United States to do that. And there’s another problem with selling POD paperbacks: they cost a lot. I had to charge $16.95 for the paperback edition of Results Not Typical just so I wouldn’t lose money. I’d never pay that much for a paperback myself, and I don’t expect to sell any of them. (And I haven’t even mentioned the book to most of my relatives…) If you are a fan of mine and you bought Mousetrapped on Amazon.co.uk for $14.95, are you still going to be fan when the only way you can get my newest book in print is by paying more than that, buying from a site on the other side of Atlantic and picking up some higher than normal shipping fees on the way? Or would you just not bother? I know I wouldn’t.

All of this could’ve been avoided if I’d just self-published e-books.

Which is why I might do it in the future. I could say to reviewers, “I only have an e-book – it’s not that I’m being cheap!” and save myself not only the unit costs of those complimentary books, but the cost of shipping them to me, shipping them to the reviewer and the envelope. No one would expect a launch and you can’t really put e-books in stores (well you can, strictly-speaking, but we’ll talk about that another day), and as hardly any of my friends or family have e-book readers, I just wouldn’t even bother telling them. If they want to read my books, they can buy a Kindle and figure out how to use it. When you publish an e-book with Smashwords, Amazon KDP or Lulu, your book becomes available where they say it’s going to become available, and those places cover all major e-book formats, e-reading devices, countries, planets, etc. There’s no shipping on e-books, no need to worry if the list price covers the manufacturing costs, no way to lose money. You can only make money from e-books.

This isn’t a random photo of a Gu Blueberry Cheesecake. I ate it while I was writing this post.

And it wouldn’t affect my sales. If someone doesn’t read my book because they only read paperbacks, so be it. There’s enough people who’ll happily read e-books to make this a non-issue.

There’s one other reason why I’d consider this e-book only route. I hope, some day, to be traditionally published. But I also hope that I can continue to self-publish alongside any traditionally-published books of mine. However I don’t want to be competing with my own publisher, and I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t offer me a contract if they thought I was competing with them. Therefore there would need to be a differentiation, clear and recognizable, between the two and I think self-publishing only in e-books would be a good way to do it.

Of course, I might never have this problem, and if I don’t I’ll be crying into my Cornflakes.

But anyway.

Fear not: I’m not about to run off and unpublish all my paperbacks and Self-Printed, which I personally think is best read in paperback form and judging by its sales breakdown between print and e-book editions, you agree, will always remain available in a physical form.

But not selling paperbacks is definitely something I’m seriously considering for the future.

Obviously I’ll still have to make paperbacks of any future books just for myself, because as we all know I’m not a fan of e-books. (Not of reading them anyway.)

There just might come a day when I do that in secret.

The Results Not Typical blog tour – still! it’s three weeks long! – continues. Find out what’s going on here

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