2011 REPLAY: 3 Self-Publishing Things I’m Not Doing Anymore

Between now and the end of the year I’m going to be using Tuesdays and Thursdays to replay some popular posts from 2011, in case some of the people who’ve discovered my blog in the meantime missed it first time round. Think of it as a “year in review” kind of thing. This was first posted in June and just skip over the bit where I say I’m aiming to have nine self-published titles available by now, would you? Thanks. (More Mousetrapped fell by the wayside so it’s only eight.) I haven’t looked at Novel Rank since, although I have also realized that I’m not as obsessed—or even concerned—with bestseller ranks as some other self-published writers. I don’t know why, but it’s all about the numbers for me. That’s what dictates my income, so that’s where my attention lies. But I have used Goodreads—I did a giveaway for Results Not Typical, which nearly 1,000 people entered. But am I actually using the site? No, not really. Especially not as a reader. As for selling your books to other self-published authors… Oh boy. I could write a whole other blog post on that, and most of it could be excerpts from e-mails I get on a much too frequent basis from self-publishers trying to sell their book to me. I have to refrain from e-mailing them back giant JPEGs of Stop signs. 

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?

(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.)

4 thoughts on “2011 REPLAY: 3 Self-Publishing Things I’m Not Doing Anymore

  1. Christopher Wills says:

    I think you are correct. Readers read novels not blogs.

    If you read John Locke’s book he rarely posts yet still managed to sell a million books. I think the key to selling lots of books is to write lots of books because that creates a web of links and if somebody finds one of your books and they like it they will search out the others – the more books you have the bigger the web (note the trap analogy).

    Marketing is important but I’m not sure anybody has completely worked it out on the internet yet. I get tired of being told to “get an author’s presence”, “tweet for an hour a day”, “blog every day” etc. by people who are not marketing experts and don’t really know what they are talking about. Show me evidence that it works.

    I have one self published book but I don’t blog incessantly about it (it’s in a difficult genre anyway) because I would rather spend my words on new books. As a result I have four completed novels that I will publish by the end of 2012. No amount of blogging about one book can possibly equal the marketing effect of having five books on Amazon. I am in this for the long game.

  2. Gayle Francis Moffet says:

    I came across this post at random, and I’m very glad I did. It’s interesting and insightful. I’m generally at a loss about what to do on Goodreads as an author; I have plenty to do as a reader, mind you, but my author dashboard generally just stares at me waiting for me to get around to doing more with it. I’ve got everything synced up over there so the whole two people who follow me know when I update things, but I’m not convinced that’s enough reason to let it hang around. I have always been bothered by people who leave stars and no comments. I don’t care if it’s one or five. Why did you like it? Why didn’t you? What made you take the time to pick a number of stars but ignore the giant, empty box below it?

    Self-pubs hard-selling to self-pubs has always left me cold, too. I’m not entirely comfortable with a “I’ll read yours, you’ll read mine, and we’ll both review” process. While I can think of one or two people I know who would be honest about it, for the most part, it feels unseemly, something akin to stacking the deck. It’s not necessarily cheating, but there’s a sheen of it I can’t quite clean off.

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