Publishing — A Self-Publishing Adventure Part 5

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As promised, I am going to give an update on my self-publishing experience with the short story collection, 10 Bits of My Brain.

It’s been about two months and I’ve sold…drum roll, please……….around 40 copies.

Now, whether or not you see that as good or bad has a lot to do with where you are in your publishing career and what your hopes/expectations for indie-publishing are.  So, let’s begin with expectations.

Many self-published authors get it in their heads that they are going to be the next Amanda Hocking.  After all, everybody is making a killing selling ebooks, right?  No.  Obviously, not.  And, frankly, my numbers are quite above average because I came into this with a small, built-in audience (that would be you guys).  See, despite all the massive changes happening in publishing, nothing much has really changed in terms of the odds of getting a bestseller.  Amanda Hocking is every bit the outlier that Stephen King is.  The percentages of Superstar to mid-list to crap writer are not going to shift (though the number of participants has).  But there are big differences in other areas:

Big one — super BIG difference — Window of Opportunity.  If I were with a traditional press and sold only 40 copies in two months, the book would have been pulled from the shelves long ago and disappeared from published existence almost as fast.  Not only that, but my chances of ever getting published again under my actual name would also have vanished.  I’d be crying right now, wallowing in the destruction of my career, and the knowledge that I’m a failure as a writer.

Luckily, for me, I’m not with a traditional press.  As a realistic, indie-publishing author, I think 40 copies for a short story collection is a decent result (for a start).  More would be even better, but since I’ve done very little marketing and since this was my first venture into these waters, I’m quite pleased.  Especially because of those 40 readers, two left reviews on Amazon, one left a review on B&N, and three left ratings on Goodreads — and all were 4-5 stars.  So, it’s been a positive response that hopefully will translate into good word-of-mouth.  And, since I’m indie-published, that book is not being taken off the shelvesEver.  This is such a crucial difference between these two types of publishing.  In today’s market, traditional publishers have to make a big splash within the first six weeks or, chances are, your book is being pulled.  Not so for indies.  Our books get to grow.  What we lack in marketing muscle, we make up in longevity.  I can afford to wait for my audience to grow and know that 10 Bits of My Brain will still be there when they find me.  So while 40 copies are unfortunate in many ways, it’s actually a nice beginning for somebody with limited name recognition.

Beyond numbers, and on a more personal level, I have to say I’ve enjoyed the whole process.  And that’s a key issue, too, that you must consider before you jump into these waters.  There’s a lot of work involved.  Editing, covers, formatting, accounting, etc.  Heck, before I did this, I never even considered social media.  Had no strong interest in it.  Now, I’ve got a Facebook Fan Page, my own Blog, and I just started up on Twitter (highly addictive).  Building an audience requires authors to make closer connections with readers, and if you’re going indie, those connections are essential.  I’ve discovered I enjoy doing all this work in addition to writing, so it’s a good fit for me.  But I’m also excited to work with small and big presses provided the terms can be made appealing.  Having other people out there helping to market my books is a great thing.

So, I’d say my early impressions of indie-publishing are quite positive.  It can work for you, but you need to be ready work for it, too.  And you need realistic expectations.  The other thing that helps is building your backlist, if you don’t have one.  I’m fortunate in that I have several novels that have been waiting to go.  I can now start pushing them through.

It’s been said all over the blogosphere that a writing career is a marathon not a sprint.  Getting 10 Bits of My Brain published was just the first step in a long race to find readers and build a following.  Thus, later this month (next week, if all goes well), I’ll be releasing THE WAY OF THE BLACK BEAST, my post-apocalyptic fantasy.  Novels still sell better than short story collections, even in the e-world, so hopefully that will prove true here as well.

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14 comments to Publishing — A Self-Publishing Adventure Part 5

  • Stuart, while we’ve said that there is no one way to write a scene, a novel, or to find your way into publishing, we’ve also said that traditional publishing is the best way. So, because you’ve not mentioned this, I have to ask:
    1. Has the novel been through a developmental editing?
    2. Line editing?
    3. Copyediting?
    All with a NYC trained editor.
    If not, then I have to say — I have a problem with this. *Every* novel needs it all. So please add in the response.

  • As I’ve mentioned in the other parts of this series of posts, editing is extremely important. So, yes, this novel has been edited, getting some developmental editing and full copyediting/proofreading/etc. Obviously, I’d love to have the full NYC developmental treatment but I don’t have that kind of money at my disposal, so I do the best I can. And, of course, the book has been through beta readers and other hands as well.

  • Stuart> I’ve been watching this with interest–thinking about whether or not I’m going to foray into self publishing. Probably not in the immediate future–I’ll try NYC first, but between you and some other folks I’ve talked about it, it seems viable if done right. I don’t have a platform, so that’s something I need to consider.

    Faith> I think you’re right about needing all of those, but I’m not sure that it has to be a “NYC trained” editor. There are good editors out there who have never set foot (physical or digital or otherwise) in NYC. (Note: I’m absolutely not claiming to be one of them!) And certainly copyeditors can be had that are quite good that aren’t NYC trained. They may have worked for academic houses or simply have a lot of experience. Though, that’s just copyediting. (And to be 100% honest I haven’t quite got what the diff between line editing and copyediting is, esp. when you have a developmental editor, but that’s just me. I’m sure there is clear difference.) In nyc, are the developmental, line, and copy editors three different people? (I’m sure the developmental and copy are different, it just makes sense).

  • Stuart, thanks for this update, and your honest assessment of how your experience has gone thus far. I think that it reinforces a lot of what has been said on this site previously about self-pubbing. The fact is, self-publishing success (defined for the purposes of this argument as sales numbers that promise annual earnings on par with what a midlist author can expect) is rare, particularly for those who have not yet had some broad-based public exposure via traditional publishing. You’re right that the longevity of your “shelf life” is an advantage, but I wonder if many aspiring authors who are less savvy about the market than you are come to this with that long view.

    Emily> Copyeditors do far more than line edits. They look for inconsistencies in details relating to plot, character, setting, etc., as well as to usage and syntax; they create style sheets based upon their reading of the manuscript that list character and place names, unusual words that occur in the book (incredibly useful in our genre) and other unusual wordings, that serve as guadance for typesetters and proofreaders later in the process; and they make formatting marks on the manuscript to facilitate the transition from typed manuscript to type-set book. Put another way, they serve as the liason between author and publisher, so as to make as smooth as possible that manuscript-to-book transition. They are, along with the author and the developmental editor, the most important part of the publishing process.

  • wookiee

    Marketing is probably the biggest part of it. The only way people know to find or look for the book in the Kindle store is because they know you. I think the number of people that get discovered randomly while browsing Amazon ebooks has to be close to zero. At the very least an ebook needs a 3.5 or more stars from 20 people before it even begins to stand out as being worth a click. On the internet you’ve got to grab attention somehow or people won’t even waste the seconds it takes to read the blurb. This is why I was critical of the cover image.

    Much of your experience seems analogous to mine in the various mobile appstores. Without major marketing, I’ve found word of mouth to have the largest effect on sales. The second biggest is having some kind of free sample. With an app, this is usually a reduced feature version. With ebooks, particularly a collection of short stories, there really isn’t an equivalent. I think you’ll see increased sales if you either:

    1. Give it away free for a day, just to get it out there and pull in a bunch of reviews.
    or
    2. Change the price of your 99c stories to free permanently, so people can get a taste of 10 Bits without making any kind of commitment.

  • Obviously, I’d love to have the full NYC developmental treatment but I don’t have that kind of money at my disposal

    Whoa, there…just a reminder to our readers, the full NYC developmental treatment doesn’t cost the writer anything. It’s a part of the publishing process, and the publisher pays for it.

  • pea — absolutely try for the big time first. That’s something I’ve always advocated. But if doesn’t happen that doesn’t necessarily mean your writing is no good. And the publishing world has changed so dramatically in the last 18 months, and the next 18 promise to be even crazier, that should you find yourself on the rejected end of things, your career isn’t over. There is still (has always been) the small press, and now, for those who are willing to put in the work, there’s the indie-press. But definitely go for the big boys first.

    David — I have no doubt, based on the near million ebooks sprouting up, that the majority are looking for a quick buck and some dream of validation. The good news is that they’ll fail quickly and go away. I saw the same thing in podcasting. Most of the podcasts that started 6 years ago don’t exist today. But if you do stick it out, you build a following. That’s why 40 books is not disheartening to me. With The Eclectic Review, it took us almost a month to get 40 listeners. 6 years later, we get 4000 a month and are nearing 500k total downloads since the start. So, I don’t expect huge amounts of cash this year. But it’ll build, and with hard work, perseverance, and luck (always some luck is involved), it’s possible that I’ll earn a decent living down the road . . . or at least pay the monthly mortgage bill!

    wookiee — discounted (possibly free) promotions and such are planned, but from all I’ve learned, the best I can do for 10 Bits right now is let it be. Once The Way of the Black Beast is out and a few other projects, then you’ll see a greater promotional effort across the board.

    Misty — Of course, if you are WITH an NYC publisher, you shouldn’t be paying a dime (or even a penny). But for me, sitting on the indie side of things, the publisher becomes me. And as a publisher, I have to put out some money if I want cover art, advertising, and even editing. To that extent, a freelancing NYC development editor is very expensive — although, sadly for them, I suspect in the coming years that will change as more and more editors find themselves out of work right along side all the mid-list writers getting cut now. It’s crazy out there! 🙂

  • David>Okay, that makes sense. I thought most of what you ascribed to a copyeditor is what a line editor did. I think my ideas come from academic publishing. I have a friend who is a copyeditor for an academic house (a NYC one, if I remember correctly). She does do continuity stuff, but only to a small point (i.e that which is italicized is always italicized, etc.) and she does format (i.e MLA) but she doesn’t do all the stuff you’ve listed.

  • John W

    I’ve been a lurker for a long time. I’ve finally been motivated to register and comment.

    Hi, I’m Johnny, and I’m an Indie Writer since May 2011. I have 6 pen names, and write in half that many different genres (Fantasy, action adventure, erotica). I don’t sell any better than Stuart in the Fantasy and action adventure, but sex sells. I make about $1200 a month writing VIGNETTES of about 4k to 12k words (19 stories published so far). I know, it’s embarrassing. No plot at all. Nothing to brag about, but the money is good. As for the money in erotica, those vignettes sell for $3.99 each, or $2.79 in my pocket.

    I spend a small fortune on editors and formating, and whatnot for the “real” novels, but sell almost nothing (even with 4 star reviews), but the erotica sells with no promotion or editing. Though, after 4 months of writing the erotica, I’m burnt out. I’m back to writing a new fantasy novel (first in a series). If it fails to get picked up by a major publisher, it will be indie published under one of my pen names. I see no reason to sit on something just because NY passed on it.

    As for editors, there are editors that work for major publishers taking indie work, too. And some awesome editors just working with indie writers. NY is outsourcing more and more. The major difference: one time espense (usually around 800 to 100 dollars, for editing, cover, formating) for the indie, to get 70 percent of 4.99 ($3.50 per book sold).

    I know some of you (okay, most of you) are horrifed by my True Confession here. Sex sells people. I know of at lest a dozen erotica writers making a living, and half that many making six digit incomes (they usually have 25 to 30 titles for sell, though).

  • It’s been great connecting with you on Twitter as well as here, Stuart. I agree Twitter can be addictive. I’m participating in a Writer’s Platform-Building Campaign right now, and I spend an hour or two each day just doing the social networking thing. It’s surprisingly exhausting considering that only your hands are moving!

    Thanks for posting information about your continuing journey in self publishing. I think selling an anthology of short stories is a harder sell than a novel, so 40 in the first two months is not bad. As you said, if it takes time for your readership to grow, your book will still be there for them to buy. Doing things like getting on Twitter and building your platform is a great way to bump the numbers up. And once you do, Amazon starts helping you promote.

    Carolyn McCray wrote a pair of articles about Maximizing Digital Book Sales that are a fascinating read. I’m sure you would get something useful out of them:

    http://www.digitalbookworld.com/2011/maximizing-digital-book-sales
    http://www.digitalbookworld.com/2011/maximizing-digital-book-sales-part-2

    As for the editing, it’s all about competitive advantage. The money you invest *should* come back to you as sales over time, because your books will be better than the ones that were not properly edited. I recently bought an indie author’s book and was appalled to find that the first sentence of the novel was actually two sentences glued together as a comma splice. I cringed as I kept reading because I ran into more grammatical errors. I might have thrown the book across the room, except it was on my Kindle, and that would have been a bad idea. 😉

    See you around the Twitter/Facebook/Blogverse.

  • John W — Thank you for your honesty. It’s important for authors to realize that indie-publishing is not a “get rich quick” scheme. It’s not even a “get enough money to pay for the mortgage” scheme. It can happen. People do succeed at it. But it takes a lot of hard work and, quite frankly, luck. I don’t think anybody should get into writing for the money. It really isn’t there in the ways people think it is. Can money be made? Sure. As you point out there are a lot of people buying erotica like never before — ebooks makes such purchases private and easy. But I hope the majority of writers, regardless of the publishing road they travel, are not in it for the money. For 99.999999% of us, that leads to disappointment.

    D.R. — Thanks for the links. Good articles. And, yes, doing social media can be exhausting but I’m learning that it has to become a regular part of the daily routine. Just like writing, promoting is essential.

  • Stuart – if word-of-mouth (or text-off-fingertips) sells books, then some of those 40 might be because I raved about 10 Bits to an online group I hang out with. 🙂

  • (maybe I should have said, “some of those other 39.”)

  • Lyn — Thank you so much. It really is people like you recommending books to those who’ll listen that makes a huge difference in a writers life. Thanks!