Self-Printing: My Biggest Mistake

You’ve all heard the stats by now: Amanda Hocking will make $1,000,000 from e-books this year; JA Konrath has long been paying his mortgage with his; Stephen Leather, the only big selling UK e-book author to reach the headlines, is selling something like 2,000 e-books a day. They are all charging low prices (99c – $2.99), writing fiction and working hard to make things like their covers, book descriptions and formatting as good as they can be.

Now I’m not selling fiction, so there’s not much I can do about that. (My novels, for the moment anyway, are still pursuing “proper” traditional publication.) I’m already charging a low price – $2.99 – and I think my cover is one of the best things about Mousetrapped, and some MS Word for Mac/Smashwords’ converter problems aside, my formatting is a-okay as well. (It looks lovely on the Kindle, if I do say so myself, and since that’s almost all of my e-book sales, I’m happy with that.) But there is one thing I’m doing – or rather, not doing – that is a huge e-book mistake. Maybe the biggest one.

I haven’t released another book.

The e-book mega sellers aren’t flogging just one book, let me tell you. Just look at the stats:

  • JA Konrath currently has 36 Kindle titles listed on his Amazon Author Page*
  • Amanda Hocking has 10 Kindle titles listed on hers
  • Stephen Leather has 19 Kindle titles.

*These are not all different titles, as part of Konrath’s marketing genius is packaging books in different ways, e.g. one their own and in bundles.

Mousetrapped will be out a year on March 29th, and it’s the only piece of work anyone can buy that’s been written by me. And that’s bad, because I’m failing miserably at the one easy thing about e-book success: capitalizing on it. Why haven’t I? Well, because Mousetrapped was supposed to be the bonus round in this game. All my energies this past year have gone into finishing one novel and then starting a second one. My energies are still there, but now I see that I have to make time – even if it’s only a hour or so three days a week or something – for another e-book.

For e-book self-publishers, time is money. At the recent LitNetNI workshop in Belfast, I was telling Eoin Purcell and Averill Bucanan about how, the week before, a tabloid-esque newspaper had asked me to write a 1,500 word feature on working in Walt Disney World. It would be unpaid but I could advertise my book at the end of it, so I said yes. Five or six hours later and having stayed up until the early hours of my morning to make the submission deadline, they ended up not using it. Eoin pointed out – quite rightly – that the best use of that (now wasted) time would have been to write 1,500 words or whatever of my next e-book, which was practically guaranteed to bring income, unlike the article which, even if it had been used, wouldn’t have.

It was a looooooong train ride back to Cork, and I had plenty of time to think about this. Why was I wasting my time doing silly things like that? Well, because I wanted to see something I had written in the paper. That was, to me, a sign of writerly success. That was the illusive validation. (At the risk of making my day at LitNetNI sound like a therapy session, the lovely Katy who sat next to me pointed out that the only person who can give me the validation I’m seeking is me. And she was right too. There were lots of smart people around that day!) But it wasn’t writerly success at all; it was me giving away my time for free and at the cost of real success – and some money to boot.

Furthermore, this life is new to me. It’s really only been in the last couple of months that things have taken off – as you may have noticed, with all the radio interviews and everything else – and I’ve been saying yes to everything because I feel I should as surely I’m lucky that anyone has noticed that my book and I exist. This is fine when it comes to newspaper interviews (which only take a phone call) and radio interviews (which only take a few phone calls), but ploughing hours and hours into 1,500 words that never get used and I never get paid for?

I don’t think so, sunshine.

(Well, not unless it’s Marie Claire or something.)

I need to shift my thinking from “any sale of Mousetrapped is just a bonus while I try to get a proper book deal” to “e-books could be my main income freeing me mentally and emotionally to pursue my book deal dreams”. I worked out the other day if my e-book sales hold at around what they are at the moment and I double them by releasing another book that sells just as well – which I think is doable considering the second book would be more mainstream – I would have a monthly income roughly 50% more than I was earning when I had a full-time job (working for Satan and wanting to maim him with the stapler, if you’ve forgotten). Do you have any idea what pressure that would remove from my day-to-day life? All of it. Right now I’m an unpublished writer who left her “real” job and has something to prove, so the stakes of proving it are enormous. But what if I was already making a good living as a writer? How much headspace would that free up to write the best novel I can, and do it without feeling like if I fail this time, it’s going to seem like the end of the world?

The touchy-feely blog post alarm is going off, so I’ll stop it there. To summarize, I’m changing my thinking. I want to cultivate my e-book existence (non-fiction) into a regular income, a sideline to my Real Dreams of traditional publication (fiction). I’m going to start taking it as seriously as I would if Harper Collins or someone rocked up tomorrow with a fourteen-book deal and an advance in the form of one of those oversized cheques lottery winners get. (A girl can dream… or delude herself!) And that means that:

I’m going to release another book.

It’ll be non-fiction and that’s really all you’re getting for now. More details to follow during Mousetrapped‘s Birthday Week, which starts Monday March 28th.

Here we go again…

20 thoughts on “Self-Printing: My Biggest Mistake

  1. Averill Buchanan says:

    Could you not turn the piece you wrote for the tabloid into a Kindle Single to sell? I think using Amazon and Scribd to sell shorter pieces is a great way for bloggers to monetize (hate that word) their writing.

    There ain’t no such thing as a mistake in this brave new self-publishing world. You’re an innovator and you have a lot of people’s respect.


    • catherineryanhoward says:

      That’s a good idea Averill but I just don’t like the idea, for me, of releasing shorter work on the Kindle. I’m doing this More Mousetrapped thing from the end of the month where once a month I send everyone on the mailing list a new Mousetrapped story (that didn’t make it into the book or is something related that happened afterwards) and in December I do plan to release them in one 99c e-book along with a new story (that is only in the e-book – of course!) And right now I’m working on two books, one non-fiction, one guide, that I’m going to get up there as soon as possible. My mistake, I think, has been thinking about this all wrong and in doing so not recognizing the need to capitalize sooner rather than later on my sales. But I’m doing it now and better late than never! 🙂

      Thanks for your kind words!

  2. Frances Valente says:

    You really should go for it. For those people that adore their kindles and e-readers there is an overwhelming choice of reading material, almost too much to wade through. But an avid reader like yourself will know that you tend to buy books by writers that have proven themselves. Mousetrapped was very good indeed and therefore if Amazon popped up with a 2nd book by you in the “recommended” section then I would buy it.

    I recently wrote an essay on the subject of e-publishing. My brief research shows that it really is the future, and that in a few years, you won’t think it is so second best to the traditional way of publishing.

    In the forseeable future the Booker prize winner could be a electronic book.

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      Thanks Frances!

      That’s one of the things I’m looking forward to with this second book – all the hardest work is already done with MT.

      It’s not so much that I think e-publishing is second best, it’s that it was never my dream for me. But I’ll leave it there because I’m actually doing a blog post on that very subject next week! 🙂

  3. diane says:

    Well, I look forward to it! I think it’s a great idea.
    I don’t think you should be giving away your journalism for free either though (trust me, Marie Claire has the cash). If they pay other writers and take a salary themselves, they should pay you, even if it doesn’t run. Of course, that doesn’t help you publicity-wise, but it does take the sting off a bit. 🙂

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      Thank you!

      Yeah, I know. But I’m still the They Asked ME? headspace where I’m just aghast that anyone wants me to write anything! I’m trying to get out of it now though. As was pointed out to me, if they HAD paid for me for that piece, they would’ve made sure to use it. Live and learn! 🙂

  4. rozmorris says:

    Yay, Catherine! You’re right. I’ve had people asking me about the next Nail Your Novel. And so I’m building up an ideas file.
    But could you repurpose the piece that wasn’t used?

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      Thanks Roz! I’ll be able to find a home for the piece all right but I’m not that bothered – it wasn’t exactly worthy of The New Yorker or anything so I’m sure the world can survive with it anyway! 🙂

      And actually I must e-mail you about one of the projects I’m working on…! (I love a cryptic blog comment!)

  5. Dianne Greenlay says:

    Catherine, you put into words something that the rest of us are beginning to only subconsciously realize – that first book that we pour our souls into for months, maybe even years is only the beginning – not the end goal. If we want a writing “career”, and an income that we can live on, we must not rest on our past achievements, to avoid becoming what the music industry calls “one hit wonders”. It’s difficult to devote the time to fit in ALL the components (writing, publishing, publicity, marketing) for each project as well as carry on with the next but it must be done to achieve success. Thanks for putting it out there so clearly for us. Good luck on your next project!

  6. Montana Martzall says:

    Catherine, I enjoyed you book very much. It was my first kindle for iPod purchase, and it was especially personal to me because I left Oklahoma for Disney’s college program in January 2008. I look foward to reading your next book, and I hope it’s about your adventures in South America, but you style is so captivating I am willing to read whatever subject. Your headache is worth it in the long run.

  7. Marcus says:

    After reading your post last week on sales, I started doing the maths on how those other author made the big bucks. I soon realised while searching on Smashwords that they both had a number of titles out, so it wasn’t difficult to see Amanda Hocking didn’t need to sell one million copies of one title, but maybe 100,000 of each title (of course, it’s still totally impressive). Reading reviews you can tell people were buying several titles by the authors because they liked them, which is normal.

    So yeah, write on Catherine! It’s an interesting “business model”, and I think it will work.


  8. ChristineR says:

    You’re right Catherine, that’s what I’ve been reading too. As soon as you finish one, you must get stuck into another. I’m yet to finish that first one. 🙂

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