Self-Printing: 3 Things I’m Not Doing Anymore

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In the last few months, self-publishing has kept me very busy. Up until, say, February, I was only busy, but with a goal of having nine self-published titles out by the end of this year – more on that another fine day – I’ve had to spend more and more time on the hard bits (like, say, actually writing the damn things) and less time on the fun stuff (like blogging about it). As a result I’ve had to streamline my time online, and say bye-bye to some things I was once spending absolutely ages on every day.

But what I’ve found is that I don’t miss them at all – in fact, I think I’m better off without them. Sticking with what’s important and diverting my attention away from the day-to-day gritty stuff has really helped me stay focused on the big picture, and made this whole self-publishing thing a whole lot more fun.

So what have I bade goodbye to? Well, among others:

1. Novel Rank

If I sell a book from the CreateSpace eStore, it shows up immediately on my CreateSpace dashboard. If I sell a book from Amazon.com, it shows up on the same day, generally, on my CreateSpace dashboard. If I sell a book from anywhere else, I’ll see it on my CreateSpace dashboard at some point in the future, although when I do I won’t be able to tell when it happened or which online retailer it happened on. Novel Rank uses my Amazon sale rank to clock how many books I sell in as close to real time as you could expect, but you can only use it on Amazon sites. Moreover, I only sell a handful of paperbacks every month – the bulk of my sales come from e-books, and the bulk of them are Kindle editions, and you can check them on your Amazon KDP dashboard at any time.

In short, there’s really no point in me using Novel Rank. I think it must be fascinating reading for a traditionally published writer who might only get whiffs of their sales data a few times a year or on their royalty cheques, but for a self-published writer who can check their sales at any time, I don’t see the attraction anymore.

And it’s not always accurate. When it comes to Kindle editions, it never seems to be accurate. For example, note in the screenshot below what Novel Rank says I sold in terms of Mousetrapped Kindle editions during the month of May:

It’s 197 copies on Amazon.com and 185 copies on Amazon.co.uk. But here’s what I actually sold – direct from Amazon KDP – on Amazon.com during that period:

385, or 188 more than Novel Rank tracked. On Amazon.co.uk, I actually sold 205, or 20 more than Novel Rank said I did.

Sales figures are a fast-track to obsession anyway, so it can’t hurt to give Novel Rank a rest. As I said it might be useful for a traditionally published author but for someone like me who can check her sales figures whenever she likes, it’s just overkill.

2. Goodreads

I’ve never used Goodreads as a reader and I know plenty of my blogging and Twitter friends who would call it their favorite social media site. But in this post I’m talking purely about using Goodreads as an author, which I’ve found an underwhelming experience and, at times, a bit hurtful too. So I’ve stopped doing it.

I was loving Goodreads in the very beginning because I could set up an author profile, and in the very beginning I got a great kick out of being allowed to do that. They also enabled me to do the easiest book giveaway ever (they hold the giveaway, select the winners and then just give you the postal addresses to send the books to) which exposed Mousetrapped to nearly 600 people who had never heard of it before. But I couldn’t keep up with my reading, let alone updating Goodreads with statuses about it, the recommendations I received seem to be only ever  from other self-published authors pushing their own books and every giveaway was for “US/Canada only.”

But it was the reviews that ultimately got me down, and got me to give Goodreads the chop. It does a writer no good, let me tell you, to spend any time at all on a site where people can rate your book one star out of five without as much as a single word of explanation for why they rated it as they did, and can do so in a fraction of a second. So I’m staying away.

3. Selling My Book To Other Self-Publishers

Okay… so the truth is I was never doing this, but I’ve watched in horror as it became an epidemic of some magnitude and I wish other self-publishers would stop doing it, and stop doing it right now. If they did, not only would they save themselves oodles of time, but the time they do spend on promotion might actually sell more books.

A self-publisher who only sells their book to other self-publishers:

  • Haunts the most popular self-publishing blogs and websites, leaves comments on every post and makes sure these comments include a reference to their book or books, with links if they’re really brazen
  • Is very active on forums dedicated to self-publishing in general, self-publishing e-books and reviewing self-published e-books
  • “Swaps” promotion with other authors, e.g. tag-my-book-on-Amazon-and-I’ll-tag-yours-back, positive review exchanges, etc. and thinks this is okay (usually with an attitude of, “Well, what else am I supposed to do, hmm?”)
  • Sends me and other self-published authors e-mails offering me PDFs or other electronic editions of their books, despite me not reviewing or otherwise appraising self-published books, my (quite publicly declared) contempt for e-books as a reading experience and my status as a self-published author (who is therefore selling, not buying)
  • Makes no effort to sell their book to the world at large.

As a result of this, the following groups of people are finding out about their work:

  • Self-published authors
  • People considering self-publishing their own work.

By doing this, you are wasting your time (because while I can’t speak for other self-publishers, I personally am in the business of selling self-published books, not buying them) and you are limiting your opportunity for sales. For instance, let’s say I only tried to sell Mousetrapped to other self-published authors using the methods listed above. How many people, realistically, are going to be interested in a memoir about working in Walt Disney World? Against the reading population as a whole, not many. So I’m already disadvantaged, a salmon swimming upstream. Now how many of those people are considering self-publishing, or have self-published? I’m guessing not a whole lot and so my potential readership grows ever smaller. But here’s the kicker: how many people are into reading books who are also interested in reading a memoir about working in Walt Disney World who have also self-published or are considering doing so and are prepared to spend their hard-earned money on a book someone else self-published when, thanks to their extensive knowledge of the self-publishing world, has something like a 99.99% chance of being crap?

When promoting your book, try to make your potential audience as broad as possible. As a very general rule of thumb, ask yourself, If I was traditionally published, could I use this as a promotional method? Or, If I was traditionally published, could I adapt this in some way and still use it as a promotional method? For instance, if I was traditionally published, I couldn’t blog about self-publishing (obviously) but I could still blog about my book, the process, how to get an agent, etc. If I was traditionally published, my story wouldn’t have an angle about getting rejected and then selling thousands of self-published copies, but I could still find one and use it to get interviewed, written about, etc. But would I  join forums to befriend other authors, and then suggest to them that we swap positive reviews, or send e-mails to every traditionally-published author I could find and offer them copies of my book?

Um… NO.

Now let’s be clear: I’m not saying don’t use the fact that you self-published to sell your work – I couldn’t possibly say that, because that’s 95% of my entire book-selling MO. I’m saying stop trying to sell your work exclusively to people who are trying to sell your theirs. Think of it as two opposing forces of equal strength colliding: both of them end up going nowhere. If you’re making and selling handmade greeting cards, do you actively seek out other makers and sellers of handmade greeting cards, and then try to sell them your creations? No. So why do it because you’re selling books?

Just so you know, tomorrow I’m going to counter-balance today’s negativity with 3 Things I Started Doing, including my new obsession. It’s, like, the best thing ever!

(I’m anticipating the counter arguments, namely that unlike a card-maker, a self-published author is also a reader and therefore will seek out other people’s products, i.e. books. Yeah, I know. It’s not the best analogy. But my point is that a self-published author is NOT a suitable target for your promotional efforts, because the reason they themselves are on all those sites and forums is not to look for reading material, but to sell their own.)

21 thoughts on “Self-Printing: 3 Things I’m Not Doing Anymore

  1. rozmorris says:

    Bravo, Catherine! Especially about trying to sell only to other self-published authors.

    Sometimes I fear we’re in danger of creating a clique where we refuse to acknowledge the traditional publishing world, and therefore don’t try to compete with it in terms of quality or reach out to readers. Of course it’s difficult because the trad side of the fence thinks we’re losers and so we may not feel like fraternising with them. But what we must do, for all our survivial, is demonstrate that a self-published book can be as good as a traditionally published book. How do we do this?

    Very much looking forward to tomorrow’s post!

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      Well, you know how I feel about a self-published clique… “Dear god no!” springs to mind! 🙂

      I 100% agree with you: the “other side” tends to think we’re losers – and we can’t really blame them, because most of us are selling frighteningly bad/sub-standard books – and so we might not feel comfortable “joining in” or we may even feel like not bothering with them. But in doing so we limit our own opportunities to sell books, among other things.

      I’m not sure what we can do to demonstrate that a self-published book can be as good as (or better than, content-wise at least!) a trad published book. I don’t really have an answer. But if we’re successful with our book, news of it leaks out into the book world at large (a la Hocking, Konrath, etc.) and I suppose that may help turn the tide of opinion eventually.

      But if we stay in this clique, that’s never going to happen. That’s the only thing I know for sure! 🙂

      • Peter S. Hart says:

        You say, “I’m not sure what we can do to demonstrate that a self-published book can be as good as (or better than, content-wise at least!) a trad published book.”

        Yes, you know what we can do. Merely (and that’s a BIG merely in this case) create self-published books that are just as good as, or better than, traditionally published books.

        Just because it’s easier (though not “easy”) to get your book out there yourself (compared to trying to convince a traditional publisher to do it) doesn’t mean that your book is ready to go yet. Too many self-published books are too unprofessional. That’s where, I believe, many self-publishers, whether e-book or print, fail themselves and fail the rest of us. We all get “tarred with the same brush” sometimes. However, that’s the reality of the marketplace as it exists. It does no good wishing for something else. So, we must all do the best that we can, individually, and we will all keep moving forward, collectively.

  2. walshachillSean Walsh says:

    Does that mean you won’t ever, EVER, read JENNY, I HARDLY KNEW YOU… ASUNDER… CENTRE CIRCLE… TURN OF THE TIDE or any of my other epublications on Smashwords?! But for you, dear lady, I wouldn’t be on it in the first place! Good Reading guaranteed!..

  3. vanderjohn says:

    Right! Have you been to the KDP community forums…shtuff’s depressing. I’d rather try to sell my eBooks to a legitimate audience out in the world who are genuinely interested in my texts.

  4. Sally Clements says:

    I reckon a lot of those self publishing would be very interested in your latest, Catherine. Although probably BEFORE they launched into the whole thing, rather than after. Very good post. I’m going to give up Novel Rank … honest … I’ll just check it once, and then…

  5. Elisa Michelle says:

    I think all of your points are valid. I stopped using Goodreads just because it seemed almost like a clique and less like a legitimate reviewing site. But that was just me.

  6. marshallbuckley says:

    I’m delighted to say I wasn’t doing any of those 3 things.
    But I’m secretly hoping I’m not doing any of tomorrow’s 3 either, as it’ll give me more things to try 🙂

  7. N.M. Martinez says:

    Your #3 is very well put! I’ve given that a lot of thought as I delve into self publishing and start learning about these things and I noticed right off the bat a lot of the things people did usually involved other self-publishers. It’s not a bad thing, but it is counter productive depending on what you’re aiming for. Most self publishers I’ve met are too busy doing their thing to actually read someone else’s stuff. They’re all very nice people, but free time is precious and usually spent with loved ones and family or with a book from their large “to be read” pile which usually dates back a year or two.

  8. Epcyclopedia says:

    Novelrank under-estimates my sales too, and I sell a fraction of Catherine’s volume. It essentially can’t “see” multiple sales in the same hour very well.

    And as for Goodreads – my experience has been that it’s home of the Serial Reviewer: people who think their reviews are god’s gift and they owe it to the world to be heard. They post on novelrank, amazon, barnes and nobles, and probably blog it and post it anywhere else they can be heard too. Problem being, they fashion themselves these pseudo book experts and quibble over details that dozens of other reviews don’t give two bits about.

    I’m sure i’ll get backlash for it, but all of my really just “rude” and smarmy reviews come from novelrank people who then go out of their way to spread their reviews to as many sites as possible. I know this because I’ve watched them do it.

    • Peter S. Hart says:

      Think about it: in their own way they are “writers” too, but because they don’t possess the talent, or are willing to put in the work, to create something, they spend their energy tearing something down. Sad.

  9. Tahir says:

    On the topic of goodreads – something people may not be aware of (I only realized 2 weeks ago) is that if your book is on google books, goodreads reviews *automatically* appear on Google books. But Amazon reviews don’t appear on Google books. In other words if somebody first finds your book through Google books, they are going to first see all the goodreads reviews, and there appears to be no way for them not to see your goodreads reviews. This could be good or bad, depending on what your goodreads reviews are like.

  10. Mario Lurig says:

    It’s good to focus on what’s working for you, 100% applaud the post and the write-up. Point #3 should resonate with a lot of authors, with the point being that you should focus your time where it will be most effective, not where it is simply ‘easy’.
    Regarding NovelRank, If you have access to daily numbers, then tracking your book is not vital. However, if you are looking at a particular segment to write in, it’s a great way to research how similar titles are doing and understand the marketplace for that segment. If you are writing about what you want to write about and not researching the area beforehand, then it’s also a moot point.
    I love NovelRank, because I use it as much as because I created it, but I have no allusions that it everyone needs it or will be happy with it. I built the RSS feeds to ensure I’d stop obsessing. If you love it, cool. If not, great.

    Keep writing and enjoying it!

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      Thanks Mario!

      I actually never thought about using NovelRank to research what’s selling/what’s not – that might give us all ideas! 🙂

      As I said above I have access to my sales figures in almost real time, and in the beginning I was quite literally checking NR on the hour every hour, so between a lack of need and the makings of obsession, I’m not using it anymore. (And in fairness, my paperbacks sales were always accurate, by the way!) I do know plenty of traditional published authors who use it though because they have no idea how many sales has led to their ranking, so it’s an extremely useful service for them.

  11. C. says:

    I agree! I’m also not doing these things:

    1. Goodreads: Staring at the site and hitting ‘refresh’ will not inspire more 5 star reviews *or* more people to magically find the book and then go to amazon and buy it.
    2. Look at sales. Sales will come when they come, staring at the amazon page will not make it happen.
    3. Pound twitter with book ads when my only followers are other writers who don’t care.
    4. Be so distracted with all of these numbers that I stop creating. I’m done with that s****. What in God’s name do I expect to sell if I don’t create it first?? Right now we’re working on publishing my partner’s already-polished manuscripts from 7-10 years ago to present. They will run out *and* they don’t have my name on them anyway. I need to get it in gear! What have I been thinking?!

    *ahem* In a word or two, I agree with your post. Something else must be done then what I’m doing.

  12. C. says:

    (Btw, just so this isn’t really confusing, when I say ‘we’re publishing,’ I mean under Raventide Books, which currently only hold Miles’ titles and will in the future hold titles by Miles and myself when the books we write together are published. Since our efforts will always be joined in some way, it seemed better to be a micro-publisher instead of just a self-publishing operation. I feel like it doesn’t make sense without proper explanation. lol 😀 )

  13. T.K. Marnell says:

    I set up a profile on Goodreads, gave one of their ad spots a whirl, and tried a giveaway too. I think the giveaway gave me a temporary bump in Amazon rankings and sales, and the ad may have trickled in a sale or two each month, but not enough for the money and effort. I think I’ll stop using them after that little experiment, primarily because it was a waste of time, and their site is difficult as heck to navigate.

    I’m sure I’ll still find plenty of other places to see hurtful things about my work, though. I get mean-spirited reviews on Amazon and other online bookstores all the time. The folks on LibraryThing can be vicious–one of them even went out of her way to create an Amazon account just to copy/paste her one-star review of it. Almost an entire year later, it’s still the only review ever posted from that account. And she was my first and only reader in the UK, too, so I just have that pitiful one-star on the Amazon.co.uk site, with a “helpful” vote too…but whatever. That book is dead. Live and learn, as they say.

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