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So My E-book Sales Are Down… But Why?

14 Jun

Last month something happened for the very first time: Christmas peak aside, I sold significantly fewer e-book editions of Mousetrapped than I had the month before. Overall my May e-book sales were down about 16%, or 122 books on my average monthly sales from January-April.

Talking to other self-published e-book authors it seemed they also experienced a dip, slowing or even stoppage in their sales, and as The Bookseller’s Futurebook blog reported, the traditionally published e-book market wasn’t throwing any parties either as their sales came back to down to earth soon after the Christmastime high.

Why has this happened? Is it a sign of things to come, or just an anomaly? Should I be filling out an application form for my local Starbucks (dream job for me; revenue loss for them) now that my future as a full-time e-book seller suddenly looks unsure?

Well, I think I’ll hold off on the barista training for the moment and I’ve no idea if this is a trend or a one-off fluctuation, but as for why this happened, I do have some theories…

1. I Wasn’t There

I was missing from the 19th of the month onwards and unlike previous vacations, I left the blog grow HTML-webs in my absence. (Normally I “re-play” popular posts.) This of course also meant that my Twitter feed and Facebook page were unattended too.

Could this have made a difference? Could the lack of new Google search results, posts and tweets have reduced the number of people finding out about Mousetrapped for the first time? If it did then I can’t really bring myself to care, because a girl needs a break every once in a while.

And all those agua de Valencias were soooooo gooooood.

2. Flogging a Dead Horse

Maybe Mousetrapped has run its e-book course. Maybe everyone who (a) has an e-reader and (b) would consider reading a book like Mousetrapped has already done so – at least at $2.99. It’s a niche book (that’s why I self-published it in the first place) and maybe I’ve saturated its relatively small market.

If this is the case, then I’m not concerned. I’m approaching 6,000 sales and for a self-published travel memoir about working in Walt Disney World (among other things), I don’t think that’s too shabby. Plus it’s easy to forget – hell, I try to – that I released it in March of last year. March 2010. By the time the follow-up, Backpacked, comes out in September, Mousetrapped will have been on sale for a year and a half. So if things are starting to slow down now, I can’t really complain, can I?

Plus as luck would have it, I have a brand new travel memoir, a novel and essay collection all scheduled for release this side of Christmas, so I’m not freaking out just yet.

3. Equidistance from Two Highs

We really don’t know that much about e-book readers’ habits, do we? Do they tend to buy books every week, or download a bunch all at once that will keep them going for a while? Do they sometimes read print books but turn to their e-readers for special situations, such as traveling? Is there something that they do that ensures summer is the e-book low season, and Christmastime the high?

Why is Christmastime the high? Two things: it’s high season for books, and always has been. I once read a statistic that said something like 60% of all books sold in stores during the year are sold between October-December* and any year-round visitor to Waterstones on Cork’s Patrick Street could attest to that – coming up to Christmas you can’t move for the shoppers pushing each other aside for celebrity biographies and novelty reads; the rest of the year, you and the 3 for 2s practically have the place to yourself. It’s also now high season for Kindle (and other device) buying and giving. Existing owners might update their models, but the real bonus for e-books are the new adopters: the people who are switching from print to e-books (i.e. getting an e-reader) for the first time. As Simon Cowell thinks to himself when he sees a tween boy-band who can actually sing, CHA-CHING!

But here, in the summer, we’re as far away as we can be from both last Christmas and next Christmas. We’re potentially in a wasteland where last December’s new Kindle owners have had the novelty wear off, and potential Kindle owners are waiting for the price to drop or for Santa to give them a shiny new e-reader for Christmas. Therefore, e-book sales are down. Maybe.

*I could just be pulling this statistic out of my arse; booksellers, do correct me if I’m exaggerating.

4. New, Clearer Listing

A few weeks ago, I changed Mousetrapped‘s product listing on Amazon so that it reflected its subject matter better.

Mousetrapped, very generally-speaking, is about me moving to Orlando to work in a hotel in Walt Disney World. WDW is the size of two Manhattan islands and there are lots of hotels, restaurants, shops and other businesses that while being on the property are not owned by the Walt Disney Company. It’s still working in Walt Disney World and in my job we were even “Cast Members” and had to attend Disney-run training.

But there were people buying Mousetrapped thinking it was a behind-the-scenes Disney exposé (clearly missing the reviews, the downloadable sample, etc.) when it wasn’t, and I wanted to stop that happening. I left the blurb as it was but on the Amazon listing I added a table of contents and a little spiel explaining why the book is called what it’s called – it’s named after Chapter 3 in which I describe being geographically trapped in Disney World thanks to no money or car – and how the word  “Mousetrapped” doesn’t actually mean “employed directly by the Walt Disney Company.”

Now sales have dipped. Is this why? If it is, so be it. I’m not changing it back. I don’t want to “trick” people into buying a book that isn’t what they think it is, and not all the listings have been changed so that doesn’t really account for a dip across the board.

5. Amazon Sunshine Deals

This only just started, so they can’t be the reason why sales dipped in May. However if sales are down even more in June, I will certainly be blaming Amazon’s Sunshine Deals.

(Well, maybe just a little bit. We’ll see.)

As long as the big publishers are fighting amongst themselves over e-book prices, we self-publishers are doing a-okay because we can charge whatever we like, and what we like is $2.99 or less. This seems to be what e-book readers like too, so it’s all good. But now the big publishers are copping on, and have got together with Amazon to charge what has traditionally been self-publisher prices for some big publisher works. Over 600 of them are on sale for 99c, $1.99 or $2.99. If you’re interested in taking advantage of it, Sunshine Deals ends tomorrow.

(P.S: I just had a quick glance at the titles on offer and aside from some interesting non-fiction titles, pickings are slim.)

6. Much Ado About Nothing

Maybe this all means nothing. Maybe it’s just an unexplainable dip. We have a while to go before we get anywhere near pre-last-Christmas’-e-book-spectacular levels (I was selling about 180 copies a month, total, up until December 2010; since then it’s been 700-800) and anyway I’ve got plenty of things in the pipeline, namely Backpacked, Mousetrapped‘s “sequel”, and a novel coming in November. I’ve also got a couple of tricks up my sleeve, a kind of “Break Open in Case of E-book Sales Emergency” ideas box.

And if I learned one thing about self-publishing e-books, it’s that today doesn’t matter. This week might not even matter. You always have to look at your sales – and with them, success – on the long-term landscape. If you don’t, you might give up. For example one sale a day might make you want to throw your computer out of the window and go hide in a cave, but in five years that’s over 1,800 books, or an achievement to be extremely proud of.

So I’m not stressing about this. But I’ll let you know what happens.

UPDATE: Re: the comment from Chris below, the chart above shows all e-book sales by month since Mousetrapped‘s launch in March 2010.

Find out more about: my self-publishing adventures, Mousetrapped: A Year and A Bit in Orlando, Florida, Backpacked: A Reluctant Trip Across Central America or Self-Printed: The Sane Person’s Guide to Self-Publishing. Follow me on Twitter at @cathryanhoward

The Big Reveal: Mousetrapped One Year On

1 Apr

Last September I wrote my first “Big Reveal” post and shared with you exactly how many copies I’d sold of my self-published book Mousetrapped, and how much money I was making off those sales. I promised an update a year on, and here it is. Apologies for the extremely long blog post – I’ve used headings as much as possible so you can skip to the bits you’re interested in!

(And yes, this was posted at 0:01. Not my usual blog posting time but by request of a blog reader who’s getting on a plane for 20 hours and couldn’t take the suspense. Plus it means I can lie in tomorrow…)

Then and Now

When I did my first “Big Reveal,” Mousetrapped had been on sale for six months, and I’d sold the grand total of 531 copies, 65% of which were e-book editions. This was good news for me, because my goal for that period had been 500. Still I’d just about made it, and wasn’t sure I was on track to meet my goal of selling 1,000 copies in the first twelve months.

Today Mousetrapped has been on sale for a year, and I’ve sold 3,969 copies of it in total. 88% of them were e-book editions, and about 65% of all sales have taken place since Christmas Eve.

Medium-to-Big Fish in a Tiny Pond

Lucky for me I’m a medium-to-big sized fish in a tiny pond, and these numbers have made headlines. (Well one headline, but still!) Were I in the States – or even the UK – and playing with the Big Boys (Hocking, Konrath, Leather, etc.), I wouldn’t even get a look in. Those guys are selling in a weekend what I’ve sold in a year, and if you’ve been within spitting distance of the internet in the last week you’ll already know that Hocking has just signed a deal a two million dollar deal with St. Martin’s Press.

But here’s the thing: there’s only one author in the world right now who has made two million dollars from self-published e-book sales and another two million dollars on a newly-inked traditional deal. But there are thousands of people like me who, while they pursue their “real” writing dreams of, say, a three-book deal (or two – I’m not picky!), are using self-publishing to earn a living as a writer and improve the chances of their real writerly dreams actually happening, by building online platforms and proving that they can get out there and sell their own books.

So while chances are you aren’t the next Amanda Hocking, you have every chance of being the next me. (The phrase “the next me” sounds horribly egotistical but you know what I mean!) If your book has any appeal at all, there is simply no reason why you can’t get out there and do just as well or even a hell of a lot better than I did. And all the big e-book sellers write fiction and have published multiple books, whereas I have just one non-fiction title for sale – so you’ll be able to catch up quick!

What I Did, or Skip This Bit If You Know It All Already

If you know nothing about my self-printing adventures, here’s a quick summary: I used the Print On Demand service CreateSpace to ‘publish’ a 232-page paperback measuring 5.5 x 8.5 and both Amazon’s Digital Text Platform (DTP) and Smashwords to release an e-book equivalent. The book tells the story of the eighteen months I spent living in Orlando and working in Walt Disney World, and I decided to self-publish after being told by an agent and three different publishing houses that while it was well-written and an enjoyable read, it didn’t have enough of – or anything resembling – a market to warrant publication. It was released on March 29th 2010, and is for sale online.

My Print “Royalties”

They are unchanged, although since my previous Big Reveal post I have stopped selling through my website, direct to readers and through my local bookstore, as to make life easier for myself I have avoided as much as possible scenarios in which I have to order stock (because I have to pay for shipping).

Mousetrapped retails for $14.95 for the print edition. To publish a POD book you just need to pay for one proof copy and then whenever it’s ordered CreateSpace fulfills the order, takes their cut and pays you the rest. My print “royalties” (profits, really) in descending order, are as follows (all percentages rounded to the nearest whole number):

  1. Createspace e-store: $7.92 or 53% of price*
  2. Amazon.com$5.07 or 34% of price
  3. Extended Distribution, i.e. international Amazons, etc.: $2.22 or 15% of price.

*CreateSpace’s e-store is not really a viable selling option, as you have to register for a CS account before you can purchase from there and if that didn’t dissuade you, the ridiculous shipping costs most definitely would.

My E-book “Royalties”

The big change in e-book royalties since my last Big Reveal post is that Amazon’s 70% royalty rate has been extended to its UK and Canadian stores. This has made a huge difference to me, not least of all because I had a very good Christmas on the UK Kindle store, thank you very much, and UK payments are in British Pounds and come to me without any tax deductions. Smashwords has also increased the royalties for some retailers in its Premium Catalogue, e.g. iBooks, Barnes and Noble, etc. who switched to agency pricing on December 1st 2010.

Mousetrapped retails at $2.99 for the e-book edition. There are no costs involved in self-publishing an e-book, but getting paid works the same way: when someone downloads a copy, the e-book company takes their cut and you get the rest. My e-book royalties, in descending order, are as follows (all percentages rounded to the nearest whole number):

  1. Direct from Smashwords.com$2.06 or 70% of price
  2. Kindle store higher royalty option: $2.06 or 70%**
  3. Barnes and Noble: $1.81 or 60% of the price*
  4. Apple’s iBooks: $1.80 or 60% of price*
  5. Sony: $1.80 or 60% of price*
  6. Kobo: $1.79 or 60% of price*
  7. Kindle store at standard royalty option: $1.05 or 35% of price.

*Smashwords is the distributor. **The vast majority of my Kindle sales come in at the 70% royalty. NB: In order to qualify for the 70% royalty you must price your e-book between $2.99-$9.99. Evidence suggests that if you want your e-book to sell in the first place, you need to price it between 99c – $4.99.

My Sales Figures

Of my sales in the past twelve months, 12% were POD paperbacks and 88% were e-book editions.

Of my paperback sales:

  1. 44% were from Amazon.com
  2. 38% were from CreateSpace’s Expanded Distribution Channel, e.g. international Amazons, B&N online, etc.
  3. 14% were from other outlets, such as me selling direct to family and friends, through my website, bookstore, etc.

E-book sales by location. If you upload to Amazon KDP you end up on both US and UK Kindle stores. Everyone else in this list is covered by upload to Smashwords. This graph is why I’m dumbfounded when I hear of  e-book self-publishers uploading only to Smashwords (who have yet to sort their Amazon deal). KDP should be your priority.

Of my e-book sales:

  1. 56% were from Amazon.com’s Kindle store
  2. 35% were from Amazon.co.uk’s Kindle store
  3. 4% were from Apple’s iBooks store
  4. 3% were from Barnes and Noble’s Nook store
  5. 1% were from the Smashwords website
  6. 0.7% were from Sony’s e-book store
  7. 0.3% were from Kobo’s e-book store.

Sales were pretty unimpressive up until September 2010, or six months after publication. This coincided with a significant bump up in my blog hits, which coincided with my first “Big Reveal” post. Maybe it was just a coincidence, as I do believe that the majority of my e-book readers find the book in the Kindle store by accident, i.e. key word search, Amazon recommendation, etc. In September, October and November I sold nearly the exact same amount of books each month: 180.

All sales per month.

Then in December: craziness. It was a good month anyway, probably because December is a good month for books for everyone, but on Christmas Eve, sales just took off. Between Christmas Eve and January 31st, I sold almost the same amount of books – 1,000 – than I had in the previous eight months. (424 in total in December and 882 in January.)

And here’s the interesting thing: for the first time ever, Amazon UK sales not only overtook Amazon US sales, but they did so significantly. Then the following month they went back down to about level with US sales, and in March they were only matching about 60% of US Kindle store sales, which is still a huge improvement on what the UK store was doing before Christmas, which was less than 30% of US store sales.

US Kindle store sales Vs UK Kindle store sales per month, March 2010-March 2011.

Detective Catherine therefore concludes that a lot of UK readers got Kindles for Christmas, and then went online looking for books to download to them. Lucky for me, many of them found Mousetrapped.

And if you’ve just self-published, hang on in there. A year ago I was selling about 2 books a day. But even if you never sell more than that, it still all adds up.

It took me AGES to figure out why my sales per day graph dips but my sales per month doesn’t. Clearly I hadn’t had enough coffee because of course it was because February has only 28 days. Therefore even though my sales per day went down in March (from 27 to 26), I still sold more copies in total during the month of March.

Money Matters

When people hear about this they say things like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah – but how much are you actually making from this? Like, how much do you get paid from these companies in any given month?

This is impossible to answer accurately, because payment dates and frequency are all over the place. For example:

  • Smashwords pays once a quarter and takes eons to update sales data
  • Amazon KDP (US) pays at the end of the month for the calendar month that ended 60 days ago
  • Amazon KDP (UK) pays in the middle of the month for the calendar month that ended 60+ days ago
  • CreateSpace pays at the end of the month for the calendar month that ended 30 days ago, but has delays with its EDC sales reporting.

Therefore if I said, “Well, this month I got paid X amount,” it wouldn’t be an accurate reflection of what I actually earned this month, which is likely to be a very different figure.

So instead let’s do this: estimate what I earned this month. Will I get paid all this this month? No. I’ll get paid some of it this month, some next month, some in two months’ time, along with payments from other time periods. But at the end of the year I should be able to say that my earnings in March 2011 looked something like this:

  • CreateSpace owe me for 70 paperbacks sold through EDC (which, confusing the issue right here at the beginning, probably weren’t sold in March) and 20 paperbacks sold through Amazon.com. My earnings here are $256.80
  • Amazon KDP owes me for 439 US store sales and for 250 UK sales. The US store sales are a little tricky to work out because some will be at the 70% royalty rate (i.e. purchased by US customers) and some will be at the 35% rate (purchased from the US store from outside the US). But previous months suggest that about 10% of sales come in at 35% sow working off that Amazon KDP (US) will pay me around $859.79, and the KDP (UK) around $515.
  • Smashwords – who knows? They normally pay me $70-90 per quarter, so let’s just throw in $25 for this.

That’s a total estimated gross in March 2011 of $1,656. (Or €1,175 or £1,033.)

Not too shabby for something that got finished a year ago, requires no additional effort now except for things I’d be doing anyway (blogging, tweeting, etc.) and is a Disney-themed travel memoir with a spectacularly niche appeal. It’s also purely income from book sales, and doesn’t include other potential income streams like feature writing, speaking engagements, paid blogging, etc.

It’s also more than I was making doing the job the book is about – as an entry level front desk agent in Walt Disney World, my gross was about $1,600 a month. Funny how things work out, isn’t it?

NB: I’m doing this a day ahead of time, so the figures might be slightly off from my actual March sales reported above.

It’s Not All About Numbers: The “Feelings” Corner

This post is, but self-publishing my book hasn’t been. Other than going to Florida in the first place (or going to Holland to start working in the travel and tourism industry, thus qualifying me for a J-1 visa a year and a half later), it’s been the best thing I’ve ever done. And rather than nix my chances of getting a traditional publishing deal, all it’s done is improve my chances, because I’ve proved that I can sell my own books, I’ve built a readership and I’ve managed to get publicity for my self-published book that some traditionally published books don’t get (The Sunday Times, The Marian Finucane Show on RTÉ Radio, etc.)

But there is another benefit that might be even more important in the long run: I feel like a writer now. A few months ago – before Mousetrapped sales took off – I was feeling very low about my Published Writer prospects. I’ve always believed (and I still do, deluded or not) that it will happen eventually, but I was getting desperate. If you’ve been following my blog you’ll know that thanks to a combination of hating my job with every fiber of my being and realizing that at 28, I may not have the opportunity to be so reckless again, I quit my job to live off my savings and finally write The Novel. (Also: Ireland had sunk into a recession, so it was suddenly socially acceptable to be unemployed!) As you can imagine, this put an enormous amount of pressure on me to succeed, both from myself, the people around me and my credit card company (!). When the novel went out on submission and got “We love it but we don’t love it enough” and “We love you, but we don’t love the book” it should have been great news, but instead I felt panicked at the thought of having to write a whole other book. I’ve always believed that you don’t just need free time to write but free headspace too, this pressure wasn’t doing any good for me or my novel.

Flash forward to today, and while Catherine is invariably highly caffeinated, she is also a lot calmer and relaxed. (Not when she looks at her To Do or To Read piles, but in general…!) If I get a traditional book deal, fantastic. But if I don’t get it for five or ten years, so be it. I’ll always have one eye on the phone, yes, but I won’t be biting my nails at the same time. Because I’m already doing what I love and getting paid for it; I already have readers. I’m already a writer. And I can’t tell you what emotional and psychological space that frees up.

The best part of all this though is that I’m in control. With my fiction, I’m not. I have to wait for someone else to say, “We want to publish this.” And if that’s all that was going on in my life, I’d be climbing the walls. But instead I have my non-fiction, which I can write, publish and sell whenever and however I want to. It makes the waiting so much easier, which means I can do it for longer without freaking out, chopping an agent-shaped chip in my shoulder and turning into one of those “Down with the Big Six!” self-publishers that I loathe and despise.

(If you’re wondering why I don’t just self-publish my novels too, you’ve clearly missed this post.)

If I Were to Do It All Again…

Well I am doing it all again, with a second travel memoir, Backpacked, this September. I talked yesterday about what I’m going to do differently this time around, but if I had to pick just five lessons learned it’d be these:

  1. Make releasing the book one of the last things you do (building online platform, promotion, getting reviews, etc. all comes first).
  2. Hire a cover designer. You CANNOT use the “Cover Creator” programs on those POD sites AND succeed. It’s one or the other.
  3. Price your e-book at $2.99. This is the sweet spot: low enough so people take a chance, high enough to qualify for 70% royalty.
  4. Don’t do any selling that involves you ordering stock (book launches, bookstores, etc.)
  5. No matter what, wait a year.

(If you want to find out more about my self-printing adventures, you read the blog posts here, or wait until May 14th when my book Self-Printed: The Sane Person’s Guide to Self-Publishing comes out. You can read the (very long!) table of contents here.)

What Now?

I may be crazy to say this in public, but by the end of 2011 my goal is to have sold 20,000 books. It sounds like a huge number, but when you break it down it just about sounds doable. (Sort of!)

  • I’ve already sold nearly 4,000 books, that leaves 16,000 more to sell
  • If I continue to sell Mousetrapped at its current rate of about 700 copies per month, I’ll have sold another 6,300 copies of it by the end of the year, which leaves 9,700 more to sell which I’ll divide between the two books I’ve coming out in the next few months
  • Self-Printed will be out in May, so let’s say that gives me 7 months (June-December) to shift 4,850 copies of it, or an average of 692 copies of it a month. I’m completely on the fence about whether or not this is doable. On one hand I think it has a far wider appeal than Mousetrapped does and in e-book form is fantastic value, if I do say so myself (100k words for only $2.99, people!) and then on the other I wonder why anyone would buy it?! So it could go either way. We’ll see.
  • Backpacked, the sequel to Mousetrapped, will be out in September. I have high hopes for it and don’t think its unreasonable to imagine that it will do as well as Mousetrapped, especially considering it’s a more “mainstream” travel memoir and might therefore appeal to more people. There is also the primed readers factor; hopefully if you read and enjoyed Mousetrapped, you’ll want to read this as well. To make my 20k I’d also have to shift 4,850 copies of that but in less time – 1,212 copies of it a month between September and December, which is a very tall order indeed. But impossible? No. I hope not, anyway!

So crazy or not, 20k is the goal.

And I do like a good challenge…

You might also be interested in:

On Reviews: Should I Be a Little Less Atheist?

17 Jan

Mousetrapped will be out a year on March 29 and I think it’s high time for a second edition. The beauty of using POD to produce your book is that you can do this at any time by simply uploading new files, which I intend to do in time for its first birthday. There’s a few ickle typos I want to amend, a table of contents I want to pull out and some other little things I want to put in. I’m also changing the back cover – the way it is now was my idea but I’ve always felt, looking at it, that it is a bit on the simplistic side and edging every so slightly towards the obviously-self-published.

Ultimately my goal is to produce the best product I can, which is why my mind now turns to reviews.

Now I’m not complaining; I’ve had overwhelmingly positive reviews and I thank everyone who took the time to even write a sentence about what they thought about my book. But – of course – the ones I can recite word for word are the bad ones, the negative and occasionally nasty reviews written by people who weren’t impressed, found Mousetrapped boring, ‘didn’t like being lectured’ or all of the above.

I read a blog post once that described the relationship between novelist and editor and how you were supposed to know which of you was right when a change was suggested or vetoed. The blog’s author said that you just know: the suggestion resonates with you; it settles in your gut; it illuminates something that perhaps you knew already but were keeping down. It makes sense.

Recently I had a meeting with Someone Important about Novel No.1 (don’t get excited; no news to report) that up until I went to the meeting, I thought was pretty hot shit. Everything can be improved upon, obviously, but I couldn’t see any major flaws in it. But then this Someone asked me a question (this won’t make any sense to you but it was ‘Who is the joke on?’) and it was like a sucker punch to the gut. Or in a less violent scenario, a blindfold torn away. Who was the joke on? I didn’t know. And in that instant, I could see what was wrong with the book. It made perfect sense to me.

But it works both ways. When someone says something you know comes down purely to personal taste and isn’t fact, it’s like water off a duck’s back.

My bad reviews all seem to say one of (or all of!) three things:

  • It’s boring. (‘The chapter on Kennedy Space Centre reads like an unending Wikipedia entry.’)
  • It’s not a negative Disney exposé, which is what they were expecting.
  • I lecture my readers about Atheism.

Now first of all – boring? One bad reviewer said that I went on and on about the Space Shuttle launch and left out what ‘seemed like far more interesting’ stories, such as how I ended up going to the airport in a stretch limo. Well, I ended up in the limo because I’d left my boarding card at work, and had to leave my car parked there for the weekend as I’d no time to park it at the airport and instead of getting a taxi I was able to catch a ride from a friend at the hotel who happened to be one of our limo drivers. Now is that really more exciting than a spaceship taking off from the earth? Really? Because if you really think so, then I’m afraid I can’t help you.

Second of all, no, I didn’t work for Disney directly but I worked in a hotel operated by a third party steps from Disney’s Boardwalk Resort and across the street from Disney MGM-Studios. All staff had to attend Traditions, Disney’s orientation program. We said ‘costume’ instead of uniform and I was a ‘Cast Member’ not an employee. I did work in Walt Disney World. And ‘Mousetrapped’ – which one reviewer called ‘a lie’ – actually referred to being trapped geographically in Disney World. Last time I checked that word didn’t mean ‘employed by the Walt Disney Company’. If you’re going to review my book based on how it squared with your erroneous expectations instead of what it actually is, then I can’t help you either.

But while I don’t take any notice of the complaints above, something niggles at me when readers say things like, ‘Well, I wasn’t expecting a lecture on Atheism!’ At first I dismissed them too but over time I’ve come to wonder if perhaps they have a point.

If you haven’t read the book, there is a chapter towards the end where I visit a religious theme park in Orlando. To put my reaction in context, I explain that I’m an Atheist and I talk a little bit about how that came about. It’s written in the exact same way as the rest of the book which (I hope!) is light, funny and self-deprecating. Then, at the very end of it, after I’ve left the theme park, is this:

“When people of faith discover that you’re an atheist, they inevitably adopt a tone of two parts incredulity and three parts condescension and demand that you explain, as a supposed spokesperson for All of Science, what they consider to be the great mysteries of the universe.

‘So where do you think we came from, then?’

‘What about all the miracles?’

‘What about people who’ve died and seen a bright white tunnel with their loved ones at the end of it?’

‘How do you know what’s right and what’s wrong?’

‘If there is no God, then what’s it all for?’

I can’t really answer these questions, although I’ll try: See The Big Bang, primordial soup and evolution for question one; I’ll start taking miracles seriously when someone miraculously regenerates an amputated limb; no one who has actually died for real, i.e. died and stayed that way, has been able to tell us about bright lights, tunnels, etc. and these images could well be the hallucinations or symptoms of a dying brain; are you saying that the only reason you don’t rape or murder is because you fear the judgment of God if he caught you doing it?; it’s for life, to see the world and everything in it, to be lucky enough to be here feeling the full spectrum of the human experience – love, joy, friendship – for as long as it lasts. More to the point, I don’t need to answer them because I don’t believe in anything. I’m not the one carrying the burden of proof.

If I came to you and said that last night three little green men flew in through my bedroom window, abducted me and took me aboard their alien mothership for an unpleasant medical exam and you said it was a dream I had, on whom would be the onus to prove they were telling the truth?

Just because many people believe a particular thing and it has been believed for a long, long time, doesn’t make it fact. There was a time when everyone on earth, including its greatest minds, believed it was flat.

Moreover, I don’t want to talk about it. Asking me to talk about religion is like asking me to talk about my career in the army – neither of them exist in my life, so why even ask?

The only other thing I will say about this atheist business is that the contempt, hatred and scorn directed towards us scares and upsets me. Professor Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, regularly gets death threats – which doesn’t seem very Christian to me – and there’s many a ‘F*%k Atheists’ group on Facebook and in real life.

But why?

People of faith seem to think that atheists can’t be anything other than blasphemous sinners who habitually lie, swear, cheat, steal, drink, take drugs, have sex before marriage, work on Sundays and kill people. But we’re not evil. We’re as good if not better than our religious counterparts.

I know that I, for one, am just lovely.”

This is different to the rest of the chapter, which starts with me wondering where Jurassic Park meets The Bible, then goes on to describe the whole ‘Happy Holidays’ debacle and Creationism in schools debate that Central Florida was experiencing over Christmas 2006, and then moves to the religious theme park. I think this bit (above) IS a lecture, or at least reads like one. I thought it was balancing out the chapter, a counteraction to the arguments I knew would be rising up in readers’ minds, but now I think it’s just leaving them with a bad taste in their mouths.

When I read or hear people say they don’t like this or it seems out of place, it’s like that ‘Who is the joke on?’ question all over again. It makes sense to me.

So I’m considering taking it out. Not the entire chapter, just the bit reprinted above. Instead it will end with me being told ‘Be blessed’ by an employee of the religious theme park in the same way Disney Cast Members bid you a ‘Have a magical day.’ But before I do, I’d love some feedback. So tell me:

What do YOU think?

Should I just leave it the way it is? I am pandering to the vocal few instead of taking into consideration the silent majority? Or is leaving that bit doing a disservice to the rest of the book? Leave a comment below or email me via the Contact page, pretty please.

P.S. Fun fact: the ‘IN GOD WE TRUST’ chapter was originally supposed to end like this: “I know that I, for one, am just lovely. But now I better go. I’ve a Sunday morning drug-fueled f–king orgy to get to.” Can you imagine the reviews then?!

A Very E-Book Christmas

7 Jan

Christmas 2010 was another great one for e-books. The third incarnation of Amazon’s Kindle e-reader officially became their bestselling product ever (according to them anyway – it seems they have a fear of publishing numbers), e-publishing sites like Kobo rushed to tell us that they’d had a record year (again, without numbers) and Amazon announced a very complicated sounding way of loaning Kindle books. This time last year I was playing with the Kindle I’d bought my mother for Christmas but, twelve months on, it was a very different experience for me, what with an e-book of my own on sale…

A Christmas Day screenshot of my Amazon.co.uk Kindle rankings. Some weird categories in there (Children’s Books?!) but I’ll take what I can get!

Sales Galore

Books have always had a surge towards the end of the year but now that surge has an epilogue: from Christmas Eve onwards, e-book sales go through the roof. Amazon’s Kindle is their most-gifted product ever and apparently lots of you got them and other e-readers from Santa this year, because Mousetrapped sales went a bit mental.

E-book sales of Mousetrapped from publication in March to the end of 2010.

While there was a spike in print copies in the lead up to Christmas, starting December 24th e-books went off on a course of their own. I’ve averaged about 180 sales per month since September but in December I sold 411 books. Of these, 365 were e-books and of those, 203 were sold between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve alone. And that is only e-book sales from Amazon Kindle’s US and UK stores – I won’t know how I did on the Sony’s, Barnes and Noble’s, Kobo’s or Diesel’s stores until Smashwords updates my sales data in a month or two’s time. 411 books is about what I sold in my first five months of sales, so that’s a pretty significant bump. Thank you, New E-Reader Owners!

In the third of today’s self-congratulatory image inserts, it’s just three Bill Brysons, a Rough Guide to NYC and Little Me in the Top 5 Amazon.co.uk Kindle Travel: United States Bestsellers (5th January 2011). Not bad company, eh?

All Hail Joe Konrath

The King of Self-Published E-books – and former traditionally published author – is now selling 1,000 e-books a day and making a small fortune in the process ($22,000 last month, I kid you not). He shared this heart-warming bed time story for would be e-book self-publishers which I love even though it contains frequent occurrences of my least favorite self-publishing-related word, gatekeepers.

Small Fry

On a related note, some of you may be wondering why I happily gush over my sales figures when Konrath is selling 1,000 e-books a day and collecting cheques for $22,000, and I’m on a scale of about 100th of that. Three reasons: (i) I’m happy to sell anything, (ii) Konrath is at the very, very top of the e-book game, so it’s like comparing your sales to that of JK Rowling’s, or James Patterson’s, or Stephen King’s, and (iii) all the big e-book sellers write fiction and have several books available. I wrote a niche-ish non-fiction, and I only have one title for sale. So I’ll take whatever I can get and be happy with it.

The Great E-Book Pricing Debate: An Insight

In other mildly related news, this piece by Paul Cornell told me something I didn’t know about the price of hardcover books and explained for me in a few sentences why we have such a gulf in e-book pricing between “Big Publishing” and self-published authors, i.e. the ones who are actually selling huge numbers of (low-priced!) e-books. I get it now.

Publishers have always thought that when you buy a hardback, what you’re paying more for is the chance to own it on the day of publication. Paperbacks are cheaper because they come out a year later. The reading public, on the other hand, always thought what they were paying more for was the extra physical mass and quality. (Actually, a hardback costs, one publisher told me, only from 50p to a couple of pounds more to make.) So obviously publishers think an e-book, out on the day of publication, should cost the same as a hardback. And obviously the reading public think it should cost less than a paperback. From this difference in perception stem all subsequent horrors.

I’m Still Not Reading Them

I still don’t like e-books. I know I shouldn’t say this as a self-published author who can thank e-books for 80% of her sales, but I still haven’t read a full length e-book, even though my iPhone has about four or five titles on there that would have been read long ago if they had once been trees. I have read a couple of samples while waiting in unexpected queues, but e-books remain my Break Open in Case of Emergency reading material.

A Kindle is a great gift to get for Christmas, but I had my own fun. A pair of beautiful bookends that need actual books to go in between them. JFK in Ireland by Ryan Tubridy, a beautifully designed book filled with pictures; the e-book could well have had the Zapruder film embedded and on auto-play, but moving pictures are for TV. Christmas Eve morning, a surprise hardcover came through the door with a lovely note. Would I have been as excited to receive an email with an attached pdf? Hardly.

Click here to read all my e-book related posts.

Click here to see all locations from where Mousetrapped e-editions are available.

Obsessed! Amazon Adds BookScan Data

16 Dec

The brains behind Amazon Author Central have been doing a lot of thinking lately. Not only have they added sparkly new features like U.S. Nielsen BookScan data (“Wow – someone in Chattanooga, Tennessee bought my book!”) but they’ve also added a sales rank tracking feature that pretty much obliterates the need for you check NovelRank every five minutes. Now you can just obsessively visit your Amazon Author page instead…

As this notice from Amazon Author Central breathlessly explains:

“We’re happy to announce that – for the first time ever – authors can see weekly sales trends of their print books as reported by Nielsen BookScan. On the new Sales Info tab you can view your print book sales geographically, as well as by paperback or hardcover.  These features are on the same page as the existing Amazon Bestsellers Rank History so that you can view all your sales-related activity in one place. Note that BookScan doesn’t report every book sold. Though it’s still widely regarded as the industry standard for tracking print book sales. And now, through Author Central, you have access to this data for free. Check out Sales by Geography and Sales by Week now!”

Here’s what it looks like. In the last 4 weeks, Mousetrapped has sold 23 paperback copies from Amazon.com and now I can see exactly from where those copies were bought. Confusingly, the biggest buyer appears to be the state of New York. What’s that all about? And how come the next three biggest sales areas – Columbus, Ohio, Los Angeles, California and San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose – each account for 2 sales each? Were both copies bought by the same person? Or did one person buy one and then tell a friend about it, who also went and bought one? Can’t you see how this could quickly come become an obsession?

It’s sales rank tracker doesn’t look exactly like Novel Rank’s – although it should, because Novel Rank’s works just fine – but you can still get the basic data from the chart. This is Mousetrapped‘s Kindle edition’s sales rank since July 1st.

What perplexes me about this is the line ‘… out of over 400,000 books in the Kindle store.” 400,000? Which 400,000 are they talking about, seeing as the US Kindle store claims on every Kindle listing to stock 750,000 books? Perhaps it’s the paid Kindle store, or the other 350,000 books haven’t sold a copy yet and thus don’t have a sales rank. I couldn’t find anything in the FAQ section that answered my question.

All in all I’m finding this mildly interesting, but as a self-published author who sells online, I can see exactly how many copies I’ve sold at any given time, and because my books are not in stores, these numbers will always match the BookScan data – they’re one and the same. None of this is news to me really, except for maybe the geographical data, but what use is that? I haven’t thought of one yet.

However I gather this is new information for “properly” published authors (that’s my term and I’m sticking to it, before the arrows start coming my way) who, if they wanted this information before now, had to pay for it as far as I know. So it’s A Good Thing.

MOUSETRAPPED: 1,000 Copies Sold (Huh?!)

15 Nov

Something spectacularly crazy occurred this morning: Mousetrapped sold its 1,000th copy!

I am so pleased about this that I am allowing myself a self-congratulatory blog post (i.e. this one) but I am softening the impact with some potentially useful or at least mildly interesting self-publishing info (see below).

The Self-Congratulatory Part

When I released Mousetrapped on March 29th 2010, I was under no illusions about the potential of a self-published, Print On Demand book about me, Disney, NASA, master planned Floridian communities, learners’ permits, Bruce Willis’ singing voice, the Ebola virus and a Space Shuttle launch. Not to mention the fact that it was only for sale online (bar my local bookshop here in Cork) and I had no money to market or advertise it…

I had three sales goals: 100 copies in the first month, 500 copies in the first six months and 1,000 copies in a year. Thanks to friends, family and loyal Twitter supporters who all dutifully bought the book the week it came out, the 100 copies in the first month were easy enough to shift. I made my 500/6 month goal too – early, but only a couple of weeks early, so allowing for fluctuations I assumed that I’d make the 1000 too, but only right on time.

But now here I am making my 1,000 copies goal four months early. Sales have accelerated. How the hell did that happen? I’m not quite sure. Whatever the reason, I want to thank every single person who has bought a copy, blogged about it, tweeted about it, reviewed it, told a friend about it or even just added it to their Amazon wish list. Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU!

I plan on doing an updated sales figures posts on Mousetrapped‘s one year anniversary (like the one I did at six months) but for those of you with burning questions who can’t wait until then:

  • Yes, that includes ebooks
  • No, it doesn’t include any books given away for free or discounted 100%
  • It could be more as Smashwords sales data is always a little behind.

The Potentially Useful or At Least Mildly Interesting Part

You might be wondering how I know how many copies I’ve sold. How does Createspace track my print orders? How can I tell how many e-books I’ve sold? How soon after a sale do I find out about it? Well, let me tell you.

Createspace (Print Orders)

At any time I can check my Createspace (CS from here on in; I’m lazy) account and see my sales for the current month up to today, or run a report to check any previous month’s sales, or all my sales to date. CS will tell me if a book was ordered from Amazon.com or a retailer included in the extended distribution plan, e.g. Amazon.co.uk, Barnes and Noble, The Book Depository. Unfortunately you can’t tell where the non-Amazon.com sales came from, only that they didn’t come from Amazon.com. Amazon.com sales appear almost immediately* whereas other retailers seem to be on a delay of at least a few days, if not weeks.

*How do I know I’ve made a sale on Amazon.com? My sales rank takes a sudden nosedive or Novel Rank tells me so.

Amazon Digital Text Platform (Kindle e-books)

Amazon DTP works pretty much the same way, although they don’t produce reports as straightforward as Createspace’s. When you log in, you see the number of Kindle editions you’ve sold so far in the current month. You can also access data from previous months. Sales are split into editions sold from Amazon.com and editions sold from Amazon.co.uk, and then are further split into those sold at the 70% royalty rate and those sold at the standard 35%. These seem to update almost immediately.

Smashwords

For some reason, Smashwords like to tuck their sales data away. For months I thought I’d only sold 9 Smashwords editions of Mousetrapped because on my “dashboard” (the screen you see when you log in) it said “Copies sold: 9.” It was only one idle night when I clicked into “Sales and Payment History” that I found much bigger numbers – turns out the copies sold thing is only for Smashwords.com.

Smashwords reports sales from all retailers included in their Premium Catalogue list. Mine include Kindle, Apple (iBooks), Kobo, Diesel and Sony and they can take ages to report. But when they do, it’s always a nice surprise!

A Word on Novel Rank

Novel Rank is a free tool that allows you to track the sales data for any physical or electronic book that’s for sale on Amazon sites. It seems to track sales by watching your sales rank, which gets lower every time you make a sale (i.e. the 78,882nd best-selling book on Amazon could become the 22,91st after a sale). It’s not entirely reliable and it admits this – last month it had me selling twice the Amazon.co.uk Kindle editions I’d actually sold – so although it’s useful as a guide, you can’t rely on it for sales data. That has to come from the sources above.

Click here for my detailed six month sales figures and costs/royalties breakdown.

Click here for all my self-printing posts.

My Big E-Book Lesson: A Good News Update

22 Sep

You may recall how a few weeks ago I discovered I’d made a rookie e-book error out of sheer laziness and cost myself some sales.

If not, here’s a summary. After I published my e-book edition of Mousetrapped on Smashwords, I downloaded the PDF version and had a quick flick through the pages to make sure everything was okay. After I uploaded to Amazon’s DTP, I did the same thing but on my mother’s Kindle. That too looked okay, and so I decided to ignore Smashwords’ recommendation to download Adobe’s free Digital Editions and the EPUB (standard) version of my book, and then use the first to check the second.

Cut to five months later, when a comment on my blog alerts me to the fact that the EPUB version of Mousetrapped, which is for sale on Barnes and Noble and through Apple’s iBooks, has 1,300+ pages, or a page break after every paragraph. Trouble is, I’ve already sold more than 30 of them. Bigger trouble is, I won’t sell any more, because one of the victims has taken the time to leave a review complaining about the formatting problem. I fix the problem and upload the book, but the damage has already been done. You can read about the full saga in all its glory here.

This past weekend I was checking up on some Smashwords sales when I thought to visit my Barnes and Noble e-store listing and see if anyone had posted any more icky reviews.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that not only had the original icky review disappeared, but in its place was this loveliness:

“[It] is a light interesting travelogue about a young woman traveling from overseas and experiencing the unique world of Orlando Fl and working for Disney. It has been an enjoyable and interesting read. I had a little problem with the e-book formatting on my nook but the author herself saw my review and sent a free voucher to get another download – that’s pretty nice! I am now finished with the book and was nicely pleased with it. I share some of the same fascinations with the culture of the area where the story takes place; Disney, NASA etc. We all have some adventures from our youth, (I like to refer to them as times of Ramen noodles and tuna) at the time it seems like that was the hardest of circumstances ever. But as we grow and learn, looking back we appreciate the past struggles more and more and would not trade them for anything. That is what I got from this book. Keep going and keep writing Catherine.”

How nice is that?

Answer: VERY.

Thank you, anonymous Barnes and Noble reader!

Click here to read all my e-book related posts.

Click here to read more about Mousetrapped.

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