Self-Printing: I’ve Made a Huge Mistake* (But Also Sold 5,000!)

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*This is a quote from one of my favorite TV shows of all time, Arrested Development. My mistake is in fact a medium-to-big one. 

Remember how back when I started this whole blogging about my self-publishing experience thing I said that one of the reasons I was doing it is so that you could avoid making the same mistakes I did, if I made them? Well, dear blog readers, I’ve made a mistake.

The first edition of Mousetrapped was released in March 2010. I was happy with it at the time, but as the months went by I started to dislike its back cover, which was very plain and self-published-looking. (I should say that this was not the fault of my cover designer, because I told him exactly what to do.) The text also had a few typos here and there – an “it” where there should’ve been an “if” and some other beauties – and now that I had a few reviews I wanted to add in a “praise for…” page at the beginning. I also wanted to add an Author’s Note and news of “More Mousetrapped,” the new stories I’d be releasing once a month by e-mail newsletter.

There was also the question of the “In God We Trust” chapter which was a shade (or ten) on the Angry Atheist side; I took a poll of my blog readers and decided to tone it down considerably, relegating the original version of the chapter to the Mousetrapped website. That’s really where the problems started. There were a few Amazon reviews which referred to my, ahem, so-called atheist diatribe, and with this new and improved version those would be referring to the wrong book, or at least the wrong version of the book. They might be turning potential readers off reading a book that in fact no longer contained the subject matter they referred to. And what if someone specifically wanted to buy the new edition? How would they know that the book they were ordering was the new one or the old one? Technically each new edition has to have its own ISBN and changing a significant amount of interior text and the back cover couldn’t really be passed off as “updating” the original.

So I decided to release a new, separate edition. Assign it a new ISBN. Essentially, self-publish Mousetrapped all over again.

(I am, of course, talking about the paperback here. For the e-books I just uploaded new files.)

In my head, this would be a simple process. I would publish a new paperback with CreateSpace and when it popped up on Amazon and Amazon.co.uk, I would first, e-mail them through Author Central and get them to break the links with the Kindle editions and instead create new links to the newer editions. Back at CreateSpace, I would disable all the sales channels for the original edition so that eventually, their Amazon listings would say “Unavailable” and, ultimately, the only paperback copy of Mousetrapped anyone would be able to buy would be the new (and hopefully improved) edition.

In reality it was a flipping nightmare, because the new edition of Mousetrapped never appeared on Amazon.co.uk, the online retailer where the majority of my paperback sales come from. Well, a listing appeared, yes, but it never became “in stock.”

Last year, Mousetrapped appeared on Amazon.com only four or five days after I clicked “Approve Proof” and on Amazon.co.uk only a couple of days after that. But this was pure luck. Publishing with CreateSpace and subsequently enabling their ProPlan for expanded distribution does not guarantee that you’ll end up on there. But if you go onto CreateSpace’s community forums (which I don’t recommend you do because all the useful information is hidden under layers of complaining and nonsense, unfortunately), you’ll see that people thinking their book automatically ends up on Amazon.co.uk – or even that it’s likely to end up there – is a widespread delusion. When I released Mousetrapped last year, there were no guarantees. Now it seems that if your book shows up on Amazon.co.uk and “in stock”, you’re really, really lucky. You certainly can’t plan on it.

This is the official CreateSpace word on it:

Thank you for contacting us regarding Amazon.co.uk.

You may make your title available for purchase through our distribution channels of Amazon.com, your CreateSpace eStore, and/or the Expanded Distribution Channel for Pro Plan enrolled titles. Unfortunately, we are unable to list the availability of your title through international Amazon websites. The Expanded Distribution Channel may increase your chances of being placed on the site, but it is not guaranteed.

If you are interested in providing inventory to make your title available for purchase, you may wish to inquire about the international website’s Advantage and Marketplace programs. More information about these options can be found through the website’s help section.

Additionally, any updates to your files and/or title information including list price and product description can take up to eight weeks to update through the Expanded Distribution Channel (EDC). Your title will remain available with the previous files and/or title information until these changes propagate through all distribution outlets. We appreciate your patience.”

I waited a few weeks, but soon realized that I had backed myself into a corner, distribution-wise. The new edition of Mousetrapped was available on Amazon.com, yes, but because I’d disabled distribution for the original edition – and the new edition had failed to appear anywhere else – all my other online retailers were out of stock/unavailable. So I did what I should have done in the first place: instead of creating a new, separate edition, I merely updated the existing Mousetrapped. That is, I went onto CreateSpace, put the original edition of Mousetrapped on “hold”, uploaded a new interior and a new cover, submitted it for processing, ordered a new proof, checked that proof and then approved it. Finally I re-enabled all the sales channels for it.

What this means is that although there are two versions of Mousetrapped in existence, i.e. Mousetrapped has two different ISBNs, no matter which one is ordered they print from the same (newer) files. Does this mean that some of the reviews refer to things that are no longer in the book? Yes. Can that be helped? No. I’m certainly not going to go on there and bitch and moan about it, or point out that it’s been removed. (Honestly I don’t think it’s making too much of a difference anyway.) But even if that hadn’t been a factor, I shouldn’t have created anything “new” when I went to make a new edition. I should’ve just updated my existing book, and thus avoided this whole headache.

As for distribution and availability, it would of course be nice if CreateSpace could guarantee us that we’ll appear on Amazon.co.uk. But they can’t, and that’s just a risk we have to take. I’m just hoping that this new book, Self-Printed, will at least rear its head on The Book Depository which will muck up my Amazon sales rankings, reviews, etc. but will allow anyone anywhere in the world (practically) to order my book with free global shipping. It’s the next best thing.

Mousetrapped monthly sales, all editions, November 2010 – April 2011. 

The good news is that despite all this silliness, as of midnight last night Mousetrapped had sold 5,021 copies. Woo-hoo! December’s e-book craziness was definitely a peak but as you can see, sales seem to be holding around the 800 mark.

  • November 2010: 182
  • December 2010: 424
  • January 2011: 896
  • February 2011: 782
  • March 2011: 849
  • April 2011: 779.

I find 5,000 to be quite a ridiculous number. I never thought I would sell that amount, let alone sell that amount in the first thirteen months. And you know what? I’m not going to downplay it. I’m all for humility but just for today, I’m going to pat myself on the back. That IS a substantial number and I’m proud of it.

Last week I got a lovely e-mail from a gigantic a-hole who told me in no uncertain terms that he didn’t understand why I was “styling” myself as a Big E-Book Seller when the likes of Hocking, Konrath, etc. are selling five thousand copies every weekend. Well first of all I’m not styling myself as anything, and if Mr. A-Hole had ever taken five minutes to actually read my blog, he’d have known that. Second of all, I have just the one book, and it’s non-fiction. They all have multiple books and they’re novels. And they’re generally priced at 99c; mine is $2.99 and it’s never been sold for anything less. And the reason I tell everyone how many I’ve sold is not to be all “Oooh, get me. Look how many books I’ve sold!” but because, right from day one, I promised to reveal all about how this would turn out, good or bad. And yes, that means sales figures.

So I guess what I’m saying is BITE ME.

(Not you, dear blog reader, Twitter friend or Nice Person I’ve Met in Real Life. Just Mr. A-Hole. And just for today.)

And because I don’t want to end this or any post on a bitchy note:

Have a great weekend everyone! Love and bubbles and puppies and stuff.

46 thoughts on “Self-Printing: I’ve Made a Huge Mistake* (But Also Sold 5,000!)

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      Thanks Keris! My greatest fear in life is people thinking I’m full of myself (that’s one for the therapist, me thinks!) so I always downplay things, but hell – today I’m not going to! 😀

      (Just for today. Tomorrow I’ll probably be apologising for it!!)

  1. Peter Jones says:

    5,000 copies is absolutely bloody amazing! MOST authors I know don’t seem to sell anywhere near that number. Least not according to Novel rank. Well done Catherine – loving your blog, keep it up.

    (And ignore the a-holes of this world)

  2. Lissa says:

    Also, because I can’t be bothered emailing you, you missed a word in the sentence “Look how books I’ve sold!””. Anyway, when (if) you fix it, you can delete this comment. I hate it when people post corrections in public. Sorry to do it to you ❤

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      No, you’re fine! I’d rather you tell me. I don’t know what it is about my brain but leaving words out of sentences is my party piece. 😀

      Thanks for the RT!

  3. Epcyclopedia says:

    Thanks for the info! Really reminded us to keep on “keeping on” and that everyone has setbacks that arise from seemingly good idea 😉

  4. Nick says:

    Hi Catherine,

    A big CONGRATS!!!!! on the 5000 mark and thank you for this very interesting and informative post. Have a wonderful day!

    Nick

  5. arepeejee says:

    5000 is a great milestone to have achieved in such a small space of time. It certainly goes to show that if you produce engaging content people will buy it.

    I came across it via an “amazon recommends” link, took a punt as it was cheap and enjoyed it very much.

    Good luck with the latest book.

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      Thank you!

      That’s actually quite interesting about you coming across MT in an Amazon recommends because despite all the social media stuff, etc. I really believe that’s how most people discover the book: by accident. Then they see $2.99 and okay reviews so they purchase it. Glad to hear you enjoyed it! 😀

  6. Marcus says:

    A bit unfortunate about the international Amazons, but maybe it will improve over time. I guess it’s luck whether the Book Depository picks it up too?

    Either way, congrats Catherine, and thanks for sharing your self-publishing journey so far. I think around last September you were hoping to reach 1000 by the first anniversary. That would have been well above average. Five times that is amazing, and with non-fiction. A second and third book this year should give a boost too 🙂

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      Thank you! Yes, 1000 was my goal but I couldn’t have foreseen what selling e-books would do, which was why it was so way off. Really looking forward to seeing how Backpacked will do in September.

  7. margaret y. says:

    Actually, reading a review and learning there was an “atheist diatribe” would be a selling point for me.

    So, you never know. What one considers a bad review, others would consider gold.

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      Ha! Well, that’s true, I suppose! 😀

      I toned it down not because people didn’t like it (some also don’t like my ode to Kennedy Space Centre/manned space exploration, but they’re just WRONG!) but because the reasonable amongst them pointed out that it didn’t fit with the rest of the book, and it didn’t really. It was about my visit to a religious theme park so most of it stayed in, and the original chapter can still be read on the book’s website.

  8. Lindsay Edmunds says:

    Doesn’t the typical self-published book sell 100 copies or less? 5000 is freaking fantastic!

    My amazon.com Kindle listing (though NOT my amazon.uk listing) has an incorrect and broken product description and has had this error for a MONTH. All I can do is repeated email KDP support, who recently said “your continued patience is unmatched.”

    It doesn’t sound to me like you made any mistakes. You just didn’t have the ability to see into the future and know what amazon was going to do.

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      Did they really send you a message that said “your continued patience is unmatched”?! That’s hilarious!

      I presume you’ve tried to go in through Amazon Author Central already to fix it? A month seems crazy though. Anytime I contact them about something 3 days is the max. Maybe it’s a problem they can’t fix..?! How annoying though. And it’s really weird that it’s on .com but not .co.uk. Definitely sounds like a bug to me.

      • Lindsay Edmunds says:

        Oh, yes, I’ve gone through Amazon Central. Description is perfect there. I also have changed description for the Kindle version directly at Amazon DTP.

        They always do respond in 3 days, saying they have kicked problem upstairs to another department.

        And yes, they really did say “your continued patience is unmatched.”

        • catherineryanhoward says:

          I can’t believe someone thought that up for an Amazon customer service e-mail – priceless! I hope you told them that their continued testing of your patience was equally unmatched! 😀

  9. Tahir says:

    Congratulations and keep the analysis coming! What Mr. ahole also doesn’t realize is that you are motivating and spurring on an army of others to keep going and not give up, and you can’t put a price on that. Also, who else is divulging so much about the actual numbers, which help people to form a realistic plan and realistic expectations? I would not have considered making my next book available in eBook format if it wasn’t for your blog and I would never have heard of Amanda Hocking either, as I was only looking at nonfiction blogs before, but yours makes the bridge somehow because you have a lot of fiction-writing followers.

  10. Rebecca Woodhead says:

    That is HUGE. Anyone who doesn’t realise how huge needs to take a look at the stats for traditionally published authors. Most don’t sell more than 400 books. My goal for my first book is 2,000. If, 12 months from now, I’ve sold 5,000 I will be shouting it out to anyone with ears. WELL DONE!!!

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      Thank you! 😀

      Yeah, it’s difficult because in the e-book world, it’s quite a small number but in the traditional world, it’s actually quite good. So for today I’m going to compare it to the traditional world only!

  11. Diane says:

    That’s excellent work! Shame about how difficult all the Amazon stuff is, though. I admit it made my brain hurt.

  12. Rachael says:

    1. 5,000 people chose to hand over money to read your book. I’d say that’s worth a mahoosive hearty slap on the back.

    2. You are one of the first to do this in Ireland and are very helpfully sharing the not-exactly-easy process with others, not ‘styling’ yourself as anything. More clapping on back.

    3. Who ARE these sad little men pouring vitriol into emails? How on earth is it constructive? Spam folder. Sharpish.

  13. Todd says:

    Good going Catherine! Stay open and honest and don’t apologize. Here’s to continued learning and success! 😀

  14. Elisa Michelle says:

    Congratulations! I’ve been meaning to ask you if you would recommend Lightning Source, as I’ve been told they’re better than CreateSpace.

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      I don’t have any experience of anything but CreateSpace (and Lulu, a tiny bit), so I can’t really help. However in terms of low cost (as in the money you have to pay up front) and ease of use, I’d be extremely surprised to be find anything better.

    • Tahir says:

      Hi – I have two titles with lightning source so can tell you a bit about what to expect. The distribution is much better: the titles appeared on the UK, french, japanese and other amazons within days of the US amazon, which itself was only a few days after final proof approval. They will also do australia from June. My books also appeared in some other unexpected places in a short time, like WHsmith in the UK.
      For eBooks they only do ePUB and pdf so you would still have to do the kindle version separately.
      The downside is that it is technically more challenging and every mistake costs money. If you make no mistakes the total cost to get a title into global distribution is only $75 plus $12 per year title fee. That’s not counting the proofs which can can be up to $30 including postage. I think the author copies are probably cheaper than Createspace (roughly, multiply $0.013 by page number and add a dollar).
      I would definitely recommend LS if you are willing to put in the technical effort (but you don’t have to reinvent the wheel -I can tell you what not to do if you go with them).
      Hope that helps.

  15. emerging writer says:

    Just wanted to say thanks for all the tips and guidance. Greatly appreciated as I slowly get my ebook, The Story of Plan B, in all the right places and in the right format!

  16. Trish Dainton says:

    Over 5,000 sounds brilliant!

    I came across your site when doing a google on text errrors in Covers. I’ve just approved final proof of a book (self-published through Grosvenor House Publishing) and spotted a typo on the back cover. My fault… I rushed through the print deadline and skipped the professonal proof reader option as I need i for a charity event lol.

    From reading your blog I will think long and hard before deciding at which stage to go back and re-print. I’m bound to spot more errors when I get the hard copy.

    Is it just me or does anyone else suspect the cock-up fairy swoops in and changes the proofs as I could have sworn the extra ‘the’ wasn’t there the 50 times I read the s#dding text and proofs before. 😦

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      Oh yes definitely – I blame the cock-up fairy for everything!

      I just “approved” Self-Printed, my new book, and here’s how my proofing went:

      – Read off screen, found loads of errors, thought, “Phew! Glad I caught them before I printed it out. Now my print out should be clean…”
      – Printed it out at home in 6 x 9, i.e. as it would look in the book, found loads of errors, thought, “Phew! Glad I caught them before I ordered a proof. Now my proof should be clean…”
      – Ordered a proof, or really an ARC (Advanced Review Copy), a kind of mock-up for the eventual book designed for reviewers. Told the reviewers to expect SOME errors, sent them off, kept a copy for myself to read, found loads of errors, thought, “Phew! At least my next proof should be clean…”
      – Rinse and repeat
      – Ordered (what was supposed to be) a final proof, as in it should be perfect I’m just checking to make sure, found loads of errors, began to despair, lovely friend stepped in (who is an editor), took the book off me, found all the errors for once and for all (although in fairness I had whittled them right down to a small number – but they were still there!!)
      – Ordered a final FINAL proof, checked it, clicked “Approve Proof”, i.e. published.

      The moral of the story: get a proofreader! 😀

  17. Trish Dainton says:

    Sounds very familiar and yes… If I ever venture down this road again I will get it proof read.

    That said, I had planned to do that on this occassion but the guys at GHP were up-front with me and said they were unable to guarantee the deadline I wanted if proof read. I worked on the ‘suck it and see’ approach as the best way forward.

    We learn y our own mistakes. We ten pass on the hundsight to others, and then that information is picked up by the person who needs it usually about 12 hours and 15 minutes after the button has been pressed and it’s too late to get the sign-off back!

    In the words of the prophet “B#gger!”

  18. Trish Dainton says:

    And then we press the ‘Post Comment’ button in here and spot the errors in our comments and think “B#gger… When are we going to get less reliant on Spell-checker etc and evolve back into using our brains better?” Or is that just me?

  19. Ramon Somoza (@SEOtranslator) says:

    Catherine, why did you not simply “reprint” it – i.e., make it “Second edition”. You DO need to change the ISBN (because you did change things), but readers that see comments that do not seem to correspond to the text will realize that it is a second edition and therefore things might have changed…

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