Friday, January 25, 2013

Adventures in Self-Publishing - Pt. 2

When Self-Publishing Goals Change


In my last post Adventures in Self-Publishing post, I gave a rundown of my self-publishing history. Most of the stories I've self-published in the past have been offered as free reads. It wasn't until early last year that I offered my first short story collection for sale on Smashwords.

Changing my goal from writing freebies to writing pay-for content made me realize that there is a huge difference in the way those books are created, produced, and marketed. When working on a book with the intention of giving it away, there seems to be much less at stake. I'm not talking about a varying level of effort or quality put into a project. Both require a lot of hard work. But somehow freebie books seem more easily "released into the wild". You upload it, dust off your hands, and you're finished. You're aware the people will either like it or dislike it, but there is really nothing more to be done with it.

A freebie project is kind of like putting your high school age son out the door in the morning - hey, kid, get out there. You're dressed, don't be late. But when you start working with manuscripts you intend to sell, it's like trying to get your kindergartner ready to catch the bus for the first time. Aside from mild panic gnawing away in your chest, there is the sense that you're forgetting something - not signing a form right, forgetting your kid's lunch or snack money, and worrying that your child hasn't memorized their bus numbers or how to get to their classroom. There's more of a worry your for-purchase book is going to get lost out there, and that someone is going to be mean to "your baby".

Even when you take every possible step to give readers the best product possible, the reality is you're likely to come up against some form of criticism of your work. That's a given. You can't please everyone. However, you don't want to make it easy for someone to dislike your work, your product, or give you a bad review. In trying to figure out how to best present my self-published fiction, I realized something very early on.

There is a lot of conflicting information out there. 

The first thing I realized about releasing a pay-for ebook is that there is a lot (seriously, a ton) of conflicting information out there about what sells and what doesn't. And it's very easy to get swept up in that storm. What readers like, and what they don't. I'm not even talking about the genre or the content. I'm talking about the font face, the type of cover artwork and the colors used, whether to have a male or female model on your cover. I came across a "discussion" once in a forum that dragged on for pages and pages about whether your author name should go at the top or bottom of the cover - also, whether it should appear above or below the title.

This kind of information seems important at first glance, but after a while, you realize in looking at the forest, you miss seeing the trees. Some of this stuff may seem serious, even threatening to your effort to put your best foot forward. Honestly, I had to stop researching, step back and take a breath. At the end of the day, when I looked at it from a practical standpoint, I know I've personally never decided against purchasing a book because the author's name appeared above the book title. But then, that's just me.

What did set me on edge was worrying about the price point for my self-published collection. There has been a lot of online discussion about this sort of thing in recent months. I had planned to set the starting price of my collection at .99 cents, but then I read several articles debating whether or not the .99 cent price point helps or harms your sales.

Do a google search and you'll find blog posts and articles that argue the quality of .99 cents ebooks. There are many people who claim the market for cheaply priced e-books is glutted, and that you can't stand out that way. The last thing you want is to pour time, money, love, and hope into your ebook only to have it vanish on the shelf with thousands of other books available for .99 cents. On the flip side of the coin, there are just as many authors who swear by the .99 cent price point. It gets even more confusing for someone like me, just dipping their toes into the pay-for market, because both sides have legitimate evidence to back up their claims.

This made me very nervous unnecessarily. Early on, I had this great fear that when I released my erotica collection I'd inadvertently overprice my book, and no one would want to buy it. At the same time, I didn't want to relegate my book to the ignored sales bin of cheaply priced ebooks, either.

I went back and forth about the price several times before I released my book for $1.25 on Smashwords. At a mere .26 cents over the .99 cent price point, I've been told by a couple of people that my price is too high.  But is it really?

What is your book worth to you?


I didn't decide on the $1.25 price point lightly. And I'm not saying every ebook I self-publish will be priced at $1.25. But concerning that specific short erotica collection, that price point seemed to fit.

I spent several weeks investigating how to appropriately price my ebook. In the end, I had to ask myself: what is my book worth to me?  More than one dollar? Less than that? What is my time and effort worth - to me?

I found those questions easier to answer than just asking what my book is worth in terms of value. After all, there is a lot of work that goes into writing, revising, editing, and proofing even one short story. The collection I was about to released contains five short stories.

After a little more research, I discovered that on Smashwords I'm able to discount my book for a limited time by using coupon codes. I like the idea that I can set my ebook at one price then create a sale/coupon code to test the book at another price. By doing this, I can see what resonates more with readers, and in the end, I decided on the starting price of $1.25 - which seemed fair. It breaks down to .25 cents per short story in the collection, and throughout the year, I can create sales events where I discount my collection to .99 cents for a limited time.

After uploading your book - what's next?


There are dozens of blogs about marketing your ebook to optimize sales. I'm not going to delve too deeply into that with this post. A well-tended wheel will turn, although there are no guarantees how fast or efficiently. It's almost impossible to anticipate what your sales will be, and how much time and money you put into marketing does not guarantee a book's success.

If you don't have a home on the internet already, I recommend building an online presence where readers can reach you. It doesn't matter whether it's a blog or a website. People simply need to be able to find your complete list of available books and links where they can buy them.

Marketing is definitely important, I don't want to short change anyone by saying it isn't. However, I've been told time and again not to devote a wealth of your time on marketing - or more specifically, don't spend all your writing time on promoting. If your book is uploaded and selling, it's time to get to work writing your next book.

Keep Writing


A few years ago, I read an article about an erotica writer who made six figures every year self-publishing her books. What did she credit to her success? It wasn't marketing. She said she didn't do very much marketing other than blogging about her books. However, she had (still has, to my knowledge) an extensive book list on Amazon, and Barnes & Noble. I'm talking about hundreds of books.

Since I don't have a direct quote or a link to that article anymore, this is a my paraphrased version of what the author said. The more books you have available for purchase, the more books you have the potential to sell.

I'm not saying authors should churn out hundreds of books. There's certainly no way I could do that, much less do that and still have a home life. But the idea behind the author's position is a good one. If someone likes a book they read, they will likely buy another book by that author. As both a reader and a writer, I have found this to be mostly true. It's how I shop for books, and I know it's how many of my friends shop also. I have three "auto-buy" authors on my reading list. The minute I see their books hit the shelves, I buy the books because I'm pretty sure I'll like them.

My point is this: don't stop writing in order to market/promo/spam everyone over one published project. Keep writing. Focus on building your next book.

This is where I currently find myself stationed in my self-publishing journey. My #1 goal right now is increasing my catalogue of available books.

That's all for now. If you're interested in hearing more about my personal take on self-publishing, look for Adventures in Self-Publishing - Pt. 3 next week when I cover topics such as building a writing plan, choosing your target market, and resources to help get you started self-publishing.

Happy weekend!

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