Why is My Book Still 99c? A Smashwords-Shaped Headache

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Back in July, I decided to lower the price of my e-book Mousetrapped, which has always been $2.99, to 99c for a limited time. The idea was that with the first chapter of Backpacked now stuck at the end of it and with its 99c price-tag enticing, presumably, more people to buy it, it would help me sell more copies of Backpacked when it came out. I planned on only doing this for 2-4 weeks, depending on how well it went, before returning it to $2.99 in time for Backpacked‘s release.

How many times have I used this picture? Any excuse. Thanks, Chris!

But if you pop over to Amazon’s Kindle store this morning, you’ll see that Mousetrapped is still 99c, and it’s the middle of September.

And Smashwords are the reason why.

Before we go any further, let me just say that this is not a rant against Smashwords. I don’t make unreasonable demands of the self-publishing services I use – unlike *coughcough* some other self-publishers we know – and only blame myself for the situation I’m in. I’m telling you about it today so you know what might happen when you lower your book’s price, so you can take it into consideration before you do any price-changing. That’s all.

Let’s go back to the end of July. Mousetrapped‘s e-book is for sale on Amazon’s Kindle store and, through Smashwords, Barnes and Noble’s Nook store, Sony’s e-book store, Diesel, Kobo and Smashwords.com. Your e-book has to be the same price everywhere – if it’s not, it’s not fair to the retailers OR the customers who’ll buy your books from them – and so one morning, I changed the price of Mousetrapped to 99c on Smashwords and immediately afterwards, went over to Amazon KDP to do the same thing.

Within hours my book was 99c on all Amazon sites, and within days, everywhere else too. Simples.

Flash-forward three weeks or so, when I decide to put the price back up. Again, I go to Smashwords and change the price to $2.99, and then to Amazon KDP where I do the same.

But apart from Smashwords.com, the price didn’t change anywhere. It remained at 99c. I was expecting the retailers Smashwords distributes to to take a while, but when Amazon, which you deal with directly via Amazon KDP, didn’t change, I e-mailed them to find out why.

They told me they had to offer the e-book at the lowest price it was available for anywhere, and it was 99c on Barnes and Noble. Therefore, it had to stay 99c on Amazon’s Kindle store.

I went to Smashwords and unpublished my book. I only sell a tiny fraction of my books from there anyway, so I wasn’t worried about a loss of revenue or anything – the most important thing was getting my book back up to $2.99 on the Kindle store.

A few days later I checked B&N; Mousetrapped was gone. Woo-hoo! I went and re-published my book again at $2.99, and again Amazon failed to increase it. I e-mailed them (again) and this time they told me they couldn’t do it because my book was 99c on Kobo.

I waited a few days until it had been about 10 days after I unpublished, but my book was still available – and still 99c – on Kobo. I decided to try a different tack, and republished it on Smashwords (at $2.99) but through their Distribution Channel Manager, opted out of Kobo entirely.

But last time I checked – which was while I was writing this, at 7.30pm, Sunday September 11th – Mousetrapped is still on Kobo, and it’s still 99c. It’s now been almost a month since I went to return my price to $2.99 and I still haven’t managed to do it.

And this is about more than how many books I sell, or my plans for promoting a new book. It’s about my income. On a very bad month, I’d sell 500 copies of Mousetrapped at $2.99. Presuming that all of those come in at the 70% rate (which most of them normally do), that’s an income of approximately $1,045. At 99c, Mousetrapped sells around 1,100 copies a month which at the 35% royalty rate – which is all it gets priced at 99c – that’s an income of approximately $381. I make my living mostly from selling these books, so being down $664 a month is not something that goes unnoticed by my wallet.

I don’t think that Smashwords are doing anything unreasonable here – presumably updating their third party retailers takes time. I get that. But if I’d known how much trouble it was going to be to get my price back up, I would never have done it in the first place.

And what really annoys me is that this is all being held up by an e-book retailer that has managed to sell just 13 copies of my book, a book that has sold about 7,000 copies from the Kindle store.

Not to mention how quickly everyone managed to lower my price – funnily enough, that seemed to happen without any delay at all.

UPDATE: Thanks to helpful advice in the comments section, I have now e-mailed Kobo as of 3.25pm GMT on Monday September 12th, and asked them to remove my book from their store. I gave them all the relevant information and sent it from my catherineryanhoward.com e-mail address, so there should be no question about whether or not I’m the author. Let’s see what happens…

UPDATE 2: [Wednesday 14th September] Angela at Smashwords e-mails me to say that she has contacted Kobo on my behalf re: the price change. She also advises me (as Mark did below) not to unpublish my book just to expedite a change, and to re-publish it, which I’ve now done. The book is $2.99, but still 99c on Kobo.

UPDATE 3: [Thursday 15th September] Mousetrapped is now the euro equivalent of $2.99 on Kobo. Kobo has a help desk system where you track “requests” and since the request I personally submitted 3 days ago hasn’t even been assigned to a customer service operator yet, I have to conclude that the price change is either a) a response to Smashwords contacting them or b) finally, a reflection of the change I made. I’m inclined to believe it’s (a). The thing is, Mousetrapped shouldn’t be on Kobo at all anymore because I’ve opted out of its distribution channel and, subsequently, unpublished it – and I’m going to leave it unpublished on Smashwords for the moment. It’s great that Smashwords responded to me (eventually) and that Kobo responded to them, but what’s the point of having an “Edit book details” if the editing doesn’t take affect without a follow-up e-mail? I just don’t think a few hundred sales out of 8,000+ is worth this kind of effort. Yesterday Lulu announced that they now have a free MS Word doc-to-Epub converter, and will distribute to Barnes and Noble and Apple’s iBooks – the only two retailers where I sell anything significant through Smashwords. I’ve published Backpacked with them and I’ll see how it goes. If that works out, I’m going to re-think my strategy re: my e-books and who I publish them with. I want to offer the broadest range of editions possible and reach as many readers as possible, but I also want to have enough control to make changes to my books if need be.

UPDATE 4: [Thursday 15th September at 8pm] SUCCESS!!! A month after this headache began, Mousetrapped is finally back up to $2.99 on Amazon.com! You’ve got to love Amazon KDP; I republished after I saw the increased price on Kobo this morning and only a few hours later, it’s back up to $2.99.

UPDATE 5: [Sunday 18th September at 10pm] I just got an e-mail from Raylene at Smashwords in response to the message I sent them about my 99c/$2.99 problem, which I can see from their response was sent by me on 2nd September. That means that Angela could not have been responding to the same message. What was she responding to? This blog post, I think. Hmm.

Things I want you to know: my new book, Backpacked, is out now; I’m offering 25% off my formatting services until the end of this week and if you want to buy Mousetrapped for sofa change, now is your chance

99c: The Results and the Kindle “Indie” Bookstore

Three weeks ago I reduced Mousetrapped‘s e-book price tag from $2.99 to 99c. Before I did, I updated the e-book with details of Backpacked and put the opening chapter as a preview at the end, as the whole point of this is to sell more copies of Backpacked when it comes out next month. This morning I reset all the prices to $2.99 (it’ll probably take a few hours to filter down so if you haven’t yet bought it for sofa cushion change, quick! There may still be time!) and looked at my sales data to see if reducing the price, even for such a short time, made any difference.

It did. For the first week, there was no discernible difference, but for the last two it’s clear the lower price has led to more sales.

Since January 2011, my highest rate of books sold per day (based on total sales for that month divided by the number of days in that calendar month) was 28.9. That was for January which is the busiest month of the year for e-books and not good for comparison, so let’s scratch that. The next highest rate of books sold per day was 27.4, which was in March. The lowest rate of books sold per day was 17.7, in June.

For the first two weeks of this month, with my price at 99c, I was selling 32.8 books per day.

This tells me two things:

If I reduced my price to 99c, I could join the Big Boys E-book Sellers Club, as 1,000 book sales a month every month seems to be the agreed threshold for a successful e-book author. And I could do it with just one non-fiction book. 

If I reduced my price to 99c, I’d have to get a real job. 1,000 e-books at 99c equals a royalty cheque worth around $346 and so I’d much rather sell half that at $2.99 (and so earn over $1,000 on the 70% rate), thanks very much.

It is nice to see things like this though:

(And before you ask, the reason the e-book has a different amount of reviews to the paperback is because to Amazon they’re two different editions thanks to my attempts at updating Mousetrapped back in February. I don’t want to talk about that headache ever again, so let’s not. And yes, I’ve already been in touch with them, etc. etc. Don’t even mention it.)

Also, last week a Twitter follower informed me of the Kindle “Indie” store, a subsection of the Kindle store dedicated to, from what I can gather, books published through Amazon KDP. (There’s an FAQ on KDP that supposedly tells you how books get on there, but it doesn’t give much away.) Because Mousetrapped is a highly rated bestseller in some of its categories, it won a place on the “Biographies and Memoirs” which when Biographies and Memoirs is cycled through to the main page, means I get front page billing. Nice, right?

Well, no. It’s not bad, but it’s not much of anything. The Kindle Indie store is near impossible to find from within the Amazon site, and who would be going there anyway to buy their books? (Well, apart from other “indie” authors who are at pains to support the movement, needless to say.) And it’s not really for “indie” authors or independently published books – it’s just, from what I can see, for books published through Amazon KDP.

So let’s be clear: this store exists as an advertisement, and it’s not the books it’s advertising. (Oh what’s the red arrow of mine pointing to? Oh, yes. The service owned by Amazon that makes these books…)

Over the weekend I made the final interior file for Results Not Typical, and ordered a proof of Backpacked just using the rough draft to see if a little image of a backpack works on the section headings. I’m really looking forward to getting them out there now. After yet another scathing “The bitch didn’t even work for Disney!” review on Amazon.com over the weekend, I cannot WAIT to release a book that doesn’t automatically make a small but vocal section of society completely and hatefully overreact for no good reason. It’s just a book, people!

Find out more about Backpacked here. Want to get an e-mail letting you know when these books are out? Join my mailing list at the top of the page. 

20k Books Sold: My Game Plan

Even though my e-book sales took a dip in May and June, I’m still not swayed from my goal of selling 20,000 e-books by January 2012.

To date I’ve sold 6,310 self-published books so that just leaves 13,690 to shift in the next six months or so.

Um, yeah…

[Gulps]

How am I going to do it? Can I do it? And why, pray tell, don’t I just write my goals down privately instead of telling the whole world (or at least this tiny corner of the internet) about it, thus saving myself from the potentially horrendous embarrassment of failing miserably at achieving them?

Well, I tell you them to motivate myself and yes, I think it’s possible. Likely? No. But possible? Yes. Maybe. I think 15,000, frankly, is doable – although with a lot of hard work – and 20,000 is a bit of a stretch. But doable goals are kind of pointless so 20,000 it is.

The game plan has three elements:

  1. Release new titles, including a novel
  2. Take at least a module at the Konrath School of E-book Selling
  3. Launch the novel with an all-guns-blazing publicity campaign.

Release New Titles

My first book (perhaps you’ve heard of it?), Mousetrapped: A Year and A Bit in Orlando, Florida, was released in March 2010. The paperback is $14.95 and the e-book is $2.99.

My second book, Self-Printed: The Sane Person’s Guide to Self-Publishing, was released in May of this year. The paperback is $15.95 and the e-book is $2.99.

In June I released three “Self-Printed Shorts” in e-book only and priced at 99c. They are: Publish a POD Paperback with CreateSpace, Publish an E-book with Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing and Sell Your Book Using Social Media.

So that’s 5 titles, so far.

In September, I’ll release the sort of sequel to Mousetrapped, Backpacked: A Reluctant Trip Across Central America. (I say sort of because although it chronicles my backpacking adventures after I left Orlando, it stands alone too.) This will be identical to Mousetrapped in size and price: $14.95 for the paperback and $2.99 for the e-book.

As soon as Backpacked comes out, I’ll bundle it and Mousetrapped into a single e-book title, Mousetrapped… And Then Backpacked Too, priced at $4.99.

Title-wise, we’re now up to 7.

Then in October, the novel, Results Not Typical. I don’t know how much the paperback will cost yet, but the e-book will be $2.99.

That’ll be my eighth e-book title.

In November, I’ll send out the final More Mousetrapped story. (If you’re not familiar, new stories from my time in Orlando go out to everyone on the More Mousetrapped mailing list once a month, and have done since March.) Come November, I’ll take the nine existing stories and compile them into an e-book, More Mousetrapped: 10 More Tales from A Year and  A Bit in Orlando, Florida, the tenth being a new, previously unreleased story and some bonus articles, etc. and charge 99c for it. This isn’t really a stand alone title; it’s aimed at people who have already read Mousetrapped.

So by December when, if last year was anything to go by, the e-book high season begins, I’ll have 9 e-book titles for sale (with 4 of them also available in paperback).

And I may also be suffering from exhaustion.

The Konrath School of E-book Selling

Deluding yourself into thinking that you can emulate J.A. Konrath’s success is so common amongst self-publishers that there should be some kind of formal support group for it, and you can rest assured that I don’t think I can. However I do think that his recommendations for selling e-books make a lot of sense and should be applied, even if they don’t result in the same royalty cheques for you (or me) as they do him. After all, they can’t hurt.

Here’s some things he’s recommended doing on his blog that I am incorporating into my own game plan:

  • Dropping the price for a time. For the month of August I will be dropping the price of Mousetrapped‘s e-book to 99c. I’m doing this because I’m interested to see what will happen and because I hope what will happen is that I’ll sell a lot of books. I won’t make any money off them – when you charge 99c you only get a 35% royalty – but maybe some of the people who take a chance on it at that price will then be willing to pay $2.99 for Backpacked which, wouldn’t you know it, comes out the very next month. Before I drop the price I’ll be updating Mousetrapped‘s e-book with the opening chapter of Backpacked.
  • Taking up plenty of virtual shelf space. If you’ve ever accessed Amazon’s Kindle store from an actual Kindle, you might well have wondered how anyone finds anything on there that isn’t Stieg Larsson or The Help. (Although if all I could find was The Help, that’d be fine by me. I LOVE that book.) Most of the people who buy Mousetrapped e-book, based on e-mails they send me, finds it by happenstance. Either it comes up in a search they do for “Disney” (and is high enough up the results for them to find me), or Amazon recommends it to them because of other books they’ve bought. If you’re one book in a million, how often might that happen? Who knows. But I do know it’ll happen more if you’re five books in a million, or ten, or fifteen. The more books you have, the more space you take up, and the more space you take up, the most visible you are. So I’m releasing more books, and bundling some of those books together. It really is the opposite of dieting: you want to take up as much space as possible.
  • Link your e-books. One of the most exciting things about having more than one book available is that I can snare Mousetrapped readers into buying Backpacked and or vice versa. I can try and get people who enjoy my non-fiction to read my novel, and people who enjoy my novel to read my non-fiction. Konrath says that every e-book should have a few chapters of another of your e-books at the end of it, so I’m going to do just that. And with a link directing them to the full book at the Kindle store where they can continue reading it with one click, it should work well. I hope it will, anyway. As I said it can’t hurt.
  • Treating your e-book as a second store front. This was an issue raised on Konrath’s blog recently that I had never thought about. If you buy a lot of low-cost e-books, you probably download a lot of e-book samples. If many of them are self-published/by authors you don’t already know, you might end up with a Kindle chock full of books and no memory of why exactly you wanted to read them. To help these readers, start your e-book with the blurb or product description that appeared on your Amazon listing. (If it’s long, you can always put a “Skip to beginning of book” link above it.) In his book How I Sold 1 Million E-books in 5 Months, John Locke recommends that you not only put your blog URL at the end of your book, but at the beginning too. It takes a while to read a book and with your blog URL in their head, the reader might have a sneak peak at your blog or Twitter feed at work tomorrow morning, and find a good reason to finish reading your book when they get home.

The Novel: All Guns Blazing

I don’t really have anything planned publicity-wise for Backpacked, other than informing as many readers of Mousetrapped as I can that it exists (and a little video that for now is a secret but which I’m very excited about).

But the novel – Results Not Typical – is an entirely different kettle of fish and I’m going to put a lot of thought into its promotion and launch campaign. I’m treating it as if I’m starting from scratch and essentially, I am. I have no reason to believe that anything more than a handful of my non-fiction readers will automatically purchase my fiction. So I have two things to do: convince my other existing readers to try it too, and somehow tell everyone else, i.e. people who have never heard of me.

One of the things I’m already doing is offering samplers of Results to everyone who pre-orders a signed edition of Backpacked from me. (Click here for more information about doing that.) These will be mini-paperbacks of about 100 pages wearing the actual Results front cover, a preview of the novel’s first section. I’m hoping that having them out there in the world will lead to some sales and if they don’t, they’ll still make a pretty attractive novelty item.

Or something.

I haven’t really decided on the specifics yet but the other stuff I do will probably include:

  • Writing guests posts/doing interviews for other blogs
  • Supplying review copies to book review sites and bloggers
  • Releasing the first chapter as a PDF/putting it on the blog
  • Blogging about it
  • Tweeting about it
  • Talking about it on Facebook
  • Video blogs
  • QR codes (just as soon as I think of a reason why)
  • Giveaways (I’m going to be giving away something BIG – watch this space!)
  • Paying for advertising (still on the fence about this; we’ll see)
  • Chocolate-based bribery.

If there is anything you can do to help me promote Results, I’d love to hear from you. Message me through the Contact page.

I’ll be finished the main prep on all this by September and will take between then and Christmas to write the first draft of a new novel that I hope will one day be traditionally published. That’s where the “20,000 books sold” will come in – I hope it’ll help sway an agent towards “yes” in the decision to represent me.

And after that, I’m off to lie on a beach for a year.

Or for a couple of weeks, anyway.

(Actually, what am I going to next year, book-wise? Going to have to put figuring that one out on my To Do list, me thinks…)

P.S. I’m putting the finishing touches to Backpacked this week so apologies for the Twitter silence and Facebook neglect!

Click here to pre-order a signed copy of Backpacked.

Go For Launch… For The Last Time Ever

The Space Shuttle Atlantis left earth today on not only its final ever mission, but the final mission of the entire Space Shuttle fleet.

Apparently 1 million people descended on Florida’s Space Coast today to see Atlantis off to space. I am thanking my lucky stars – as I do regularly – that I got to achieve my lifelong dream of seeing a Space Shuttle launch in 2007, or only four years before my chances would have run out. I saw Discovery off on STS-120.

It’s very sad, but perhaps not the reasons you might think. I’m not sad to see the Shuttle go, really: it was a wild, over-complicated machine that couldn’t even spell the word budget. But what I am sad about it is:

  • All the people who never got to see a launch up close
  • The fact that there’s nothing to replace it.

(And, for the record, I am SICK TO THE TEETH of reading articles that end with sentences like, “NASA scientists and engineers will now turn their attention to designing a new spaceship.” No they won’t. They’re relying on the Russians to bring their astronauts to the ISS, and they’re pinning their hopes on private enterprise keeping the exploration of space alive. Thousands of people in the space industry that NASA kept going just lost their jobs, and many won’t be able to return to anything resembling the roles they loved so much. If you want to read a researched article about the future of the USA’s manned exploration of space, click here.)

I know I posted this loads of times, but on the off chance that you’ve never read it, here is my account of the Space Shuttle launch I saw. It will be the last time ever, I promise! And although More Mousetrapped will be going out a little late this month (*cough* next week *cough*), it will have a STS-120 theme. And it also involves pizza. Scroll to the end of this post for the sign-up information if you haven’t signed up already.

___________________________________________

“Space Shuttle Discovery was slated for launch at 11.38am on October 22nd, 2007, and Andrea and I headed towards the Cape with hopes of seeing it.

Originally we had intended to get up with the dawn and drive out there on launch morning, figuring that if we were on the road by seven we could avoid the fabled traffic jams of The Launch Day Eastward Exodus. But when we shared this plan with our co-workers, they thought we’d been hitting the crazy pills. Kelly advised us to leave no later than six and Mark recalled traffic backed up all the way into Orlando the last time a Shuttle launched.

Neither Andrea nor I were too keen on getting up in the middle of the night, so at the last minute, we decided to drive out there the night before instead, securing what was surely the last remaining hotel room in the whole of Cocoa Beach.

It seemed like a good idea at the time, having arrived, to then head for the dunes with beer and a box of Oreo Caksters and after that, stay up until four in the morning Googling Taylor Kitsch and Altar Boyz videos, but when our wake-up call came only three hours later it suddenly didn’t seem like all that wise a move.

Outside it was shaping up to be a beautiful day: sunshine, clear skies, no wind. We flicked through the local news channels until we came across live feed of VIP guests arriving at the Cape ahead of the launch countdown. Among them was Star Wars creator George Lucas. Apparently somewhere onboard Discovery, the light sabre swung around in Return of the Jedi was carefully stowed away. To commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of the original trilogy – and to make the heads of Star Wars nerds everywhere spin with delight – the prop was going to visit the International Space Station. Also visiting the ISS was NASA Astronaut Dan Tani who, I would later learn, was married to a Corkonian; back home, the newspapers were filled with stories about the launch.

Most importantly, at T-Minus 3 hours and 30 minutes, we were still go for launch.

After the requisite Starbucks stop – conveniently, our hotel had one in its lobby – we drove the short distance from Cocoa Beach to Titusville, the small town that sits directly across the Indian River from Cape Canaveral, with only a vague notion of what we were going to do once we got there.

Miho (i.e. Original Mirage Owner) had told me once about how she’d watched a launch from the McDonalds on US-1, a highway that ran through Titusville. From there she had had an unobstructed view, almost directly opposite the VAB.

Naturally we weren’t the only ones with that bright idea. A mile out, cars and trucks ahead of us began pulling off the road and nudging their way into every available space to the east of US-1 and the McDonald’s lot was already full.

We were wondering what to do next just as we came upon the riverside parking lot of a restaurant called ‘Paul’s Smokehouse’ where spaces were going for ten bucks a pop. It looked like a pleasant place to wait out the morning and it was probably as good or better than anything else we were likely to find further down, so we handed over ten dollars and took up a spot.

By T-Minus 2 hours 30 minutes, we had secured a prime viewing position at the water’s edge. It was a little bit closer to a couple of fire ant hills than I liked but it was going to be a great place to watch the launch, if it went ahead.

I asked the universe to please, please let me see it happen.

Then all there was to do was sit and wait.

At T-Minus 2 hours, we take a stroll back up the street to McDonalds to get some greasy plastic for breakfast. A couple of kindly senior citizens astute enough to have brought deck-chairs agree to watch our spot for us while we’re gone.

T-Minus 1 hour 40 minutes. Andrea and I exchange looks that go some way to convey how much we want to throttle the two little blonde girls to the left of us. They are unrelenting in their test of their grandmother’s patience, asking an endless barrage of stupid questions in whiney voices. ‘What’s taking so long? Why are we waiting? What’s wrong with your face?’

T-Minus 1 hour 15 minutes. I remember that somewhere in my car is a newspaper so now at least one of us has some reading material with which to pass the time. Hungry creepy-crawlies are making their way into our McDonald’s leftovers.

T-Minus 1 hour. We stifle laughter as one of the aforementioned senior citizens warns her one hundredth idiot about the fire ants. Every few minutes someone goes to sit on the patch of empty grass between us and these ladies, thinking they are the first ones to notice this vacant viewing spot.

T-Minus 45 minutes. ‘Be careful – that’s an ant hill.’

T-Minus 39 minutes. ‘Take care there, there’s an ant hill.’

T-Minus 32 minutes. ‘GET OFF THAT DAMN ANT HILL!’

T-Minus 30 minutes. A couple of hundred people are now gathered in the parking lot of Paul’s Smokehouse. (At $10 a car, Paul must be raking it in.) A text message arrives from my mum – she’s out shopping, nowhere near a TV or radio and therefore really of no use to us at this important juncture. If I’d been thinking clearly I could have had her installed in front of Sky News, sending me text message updates at regular intervals.

T-Minus 25 minutes. Some guy has a radio. He stands in the middle of the crowd holding it aloft so everyone can hear NASA’s tinny chatter from across the river. After a few minutes you can totally tell his arm is killing him, but he can’t put it down now. I notice my shoulders are hot to the touch and turning a shade of Lobster Fusion 104. Anyone got some sunscreen?

T-Minus 15 minutes. One small, solitary cloud appears out of nowhere and settles itself directly above where I think the Shuttle is. I overhear someone saying there is a concern about ice on the launch pad, even though this is Central Florida in October and the temperature’s about eighty degrees.

T-Minus 12 minutes. I fetch my NASA baseball cap from the car and prepare to be disappointed. My stomach commences its Olympic tumbling routine.

T-Minus 10 minutes. My palms start to sweat. I wait for someone, somewhere, to tell me the launch has been scrubbed. Is it really possible that this will actually go ahead, that in a few short moments, a lifelong dream of mine will be realised? I can’t help but doubt it.

Besides the annoying children and the odd NASA voice from the radio, it’s all quiet here at the water’s edge. A few years previously I had seen the Knicks play at Madison Square Garden and for the whole of the first quarter, I had had the strange feeling that something was very wrong. It was only afterwards I realised what it was: having never before seen a game that wasn’t on TV, I was missing the running commentary. It was the same here on the banks of the Indian River. No doubt the launch complex, across from us on the horizon, was a hive of activity. I just hoped that none of it was going to result in the postponement of this launch.

A woman who’d been sitting next to Andrea asked her if it was okay to take our photo as we watched the launch. Andrea was wearing sunglasses and the woman explained she’d always wanted to get a photo of a launch reflected in a spectator’s shades. We hurriedly nodded our agreement and turned back to the countdown.

At T-Minus 3 minutes, I start to lose it. I suddenly realised that I hadn’t just been sunbathing all morning, but awaiting a Space Shuttle launch. I’d been thinking at least last night was fun and thereby consoling myself that it hadn’t been a complete waste of a trip. The two-minute point passed and then unbelievably, the one-minute mark. I looked to Andrea. I looked to the guy with the radio. I looked to my phone. I looked to anyone for news that this countdown had come grinding to a sudden halt.

T-Minus 30 seconds came and went. The clock kept ticking.

I began to panic. I wanted them all to stop, to wait a minute while I savoured this, to just slow down a second so I could take it in.

But it didn’t stop. It carried on.

I’d been expecting another disappointment; I hadn’t prepared for a success.

And so now, I was going to hyperventilate.

I closed my eyes.

When someone began counting down in seconds, I opened them again.

Ten, nine, eight…the crowd at Paul’s Smokehouse were on their feet…seven, six…a few voices joined in, amplifying it… five, four…a lump in my throat…three…here come the waterworks…two

Was I really going to see this?

One.

There was a beat.

Then someone shouted, ‘There it is!’

Across the river from us, a flame the size of a building was burning bright. Alongside it on the flat horizon, huge billows of smoke sprang out on either side and started to swell.

Discovery was go for launch.

The fire began to rise.

Within seconds it was higher than the roof of the VAB and climbing. After disappearing into a patch of cloud, it emerged on the other side and proceeded to burn a hazy arc, up and away from us as the earth turned, white smoke on a blue sky.

The crowd cheered and applauded, encouraging the ship and its astronaut crew to ‘Go, go, go!’ It seemed so impossible. It was frightening. Could this thing really burn its way up into space? We tried to help it along. We willed it towards the stars with our hearts.

A loud rumble came thundering across the Indian River, passed through our chests and then faded away behind us: the launch soundtrack on delay.

My phone beeped with a text message from my mother who had evidently heard the good news: ‘LIFT OFF!’ Either she was as excited about it as I was or she didn’t know how to switch to lower case.

It takes eight minutes for a Space Shuttle to carry its crew into space and for a lot of that time it’s visible in some form from the ground. No one moved until the Shuttle became a tiny white dot and then faded completely from sight.

The Space Shuttle was in space.

Sunlight shone on the bright white tendril of smoke left behind in the sky, a reminder that we hadn’t merely dreamed the entire thing. It had really happened. We had just seen a spaceship depart from the earth.

And somewhere inside the Orbiter, just above the blaze, seven people – and one light sabre – were going up there with it.

When I came back down to earth myself, I realised I’d been crying the entire time, and not just delicate, single-tear-escapes-down-cheek crying, but great blubbering sobs of irrepressible emotion. I was officially a mess.

Andrea thought my overreaction was hilarious but even she had to admit it had been a hugely moving experience. It was just worse for me due to the whole Shuttle launch dream business and the fact that I cried at the drop of a hat. (I didn’t just cry at Oprah, I cried at the sixty second promo for Oprah.) The dreams of thousands of people had carried that Shuttle into space and, by being here, I had seen one of my own dreams realised as well.

When Discovery had disappeared, the woman who’d wanted to take our photo introduced herself as the editor of a local Brevard County newspaper. Now we were paying attention. She wrote down our names and where we hailed from, whilst I hoped against hope that nowhere on her memory card was a photo of an overly-emotional sunburned Irish girl with no make-up, three hours’ sleep, and all her hair tucked up under a NASA baseball cap.

I rang my Mum to relay the details and started crying all over again, which wasn’t a good thing because by then I was at the wheel of the Mirage and on the way home.  Mark called from his shift at the desk to say he’d heard it had launched and congratulated me on finally getting to see it. Only then did it begin to sink in.

I’ve seen a Shuttle launch!

On the way back to Orlando, we rolled down the windows and turned up the radio. Life was good. Yet another dream had been crossed off the list; I needed to get some new ones. Poor Andrea had to be in work by three but as I had the day off, I was free to go home and get back into bed.

However, I was way too jacked up on adrenaline to close my eyes for any length of time. Instead, I replayed my launch video.

A few times.

Okay; over and over for the rest of the day. Happy now?

Two weeks later, I drove back out to Titusville to pick up a copy of the illustrious North Brevard Beacon, the editor of which we’d met at the launch.

When I finally located a few copies in a deserted mall not far from Paul’s Smokehouse, I laughed out loud.

On the front page and under the heading ‘Enlightened Discovery’ (clever!), a NASA-capped crying Irish girl held a hand to her heart, face lifted towards the same unseen sight as everyone else around her.

The caption read, ‘Standing on the banks of the Indian River near Paul’s Smokehouse, Catherine Ryan Howard from Cork, Ireland, is overcome with emotion as she watches Space Shuttle Discovery STS-120 lifting into orbit on 22nd October. She said her first launch was the most amazing thing she had ever seen.’ “

______________________________________________________

Good luck, Atlantis!

Sign up for More Mousetrapped free on Mousetrappedbook.com.

MOUSETRAPPED in Magazines (Well, Just the One…)

This post is going to break the self-imposed three post limit I only set myself yesterday, but is it my fault that in one week it’s the 4th of July, my birthday, the last ever Space Shuttle launch and the day an interview I did ages ago for a magazine finally appears? Hardly. And so I’ll start sticking to the three post limit next week, I promise.

If you live in Ireland and have €1.25 to spare, pick up a copy of this week’s Woman’s Way magazine because me and Mousetrapped are in it! The lovely Lisa interviewed me a while back for it and I’m so pleased with how it turned out. Thanks, Lisa! It’s the issue dated 11th July and the cover has Jane Seymour on it (below).

In other news, I am already kicking arse on yesterday’s 10 Things to Do Before I’m 30 list. Even though it costs €18 and so is OUTRAGEOUSLY expensive when it should be free to download because if you want a driver’s license you have to read it, I bought the book you have to study before you take your driver theory test, which if you pass, gets you the provisional license you need to start taking lessons. So okay, I haven’t actually opened it yet but it’s a step in the right direction, isn’t it?

Don’t forget you can order a signed copy of Mousetrapped and pre-order a signed copy of Backpacked for a limited period on buybackpackedbook.com.

So My E-book Sales Are Down… But Why?

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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

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.