the ugly truth about self-publishing . . .


It’s been a year since I self-published, and I’m going to do what I haven’t seen another self-published author do, give my results!

The first question that comes to mind is, why did the Duke series sell and not the ATL series? The Duke series had a foot in the ‘furry’/anthro genre, was promoted on FurAffinity.net and soFurry.com, and ‘furries’ are friendly and supportive creatures. The ATL series is genre-less, being so broad, a romance/mystery/humor novel featuring gay, bisexual, and straight characters, that the only category for it is general fiction, unless I wanted to dump it in gay fiction, but I didn’t feel right about that as it features a straight relationship, as gay men don’t want no chocolate in their peanut butter, if you know what I’m sayin’. Now that the ATL series is out on eBook, and the Duke series has been read, it may pick up more sales.

Which brings me to my doomed experiment. This summer I published ATL 1 serial. It made sense, each chapter is an episode of a season, like on TV. But readers don’t want to have to buy and download twelve chapters per book. And once they’re out there, it’s not really serial anymore, as you can buy them all at once. While serial books are gaining popularity recently, it would be for chapters posted to a subscribed to blog, not individual eBooks. Now ATL 1 and 2 are in eBook in their entirety.

Next question, what’s with the recouped costs? Well, here’re some lessons I’ve learned:

1) don’t commission multiple artists for cover art at the same time, as the one not used is mostly a waste, unless you count the exposure you get from the artist themselves. The Duke series features art by jailbird, but I got little exposure from it. The alternate cover art was by tsaiwolf, and I picked up quite a few followers/readers through this exposure. In fact, (if I had the money now), I’d planned on commissioning artists not only for some great character art, but also for exposure; this would be a marketing cost though, not production.

2) convert your files to eBook yourself! At first, I thought the process was daunting and paid createspace $69 each to convert my files, often a couple of times. It really is too damn easy though, not to do yourself.

3) don’t buy inventory! I wanted to have an inventory of my books for sale, but in this digital age it’s too easy, and convenient, to make changes. I’m always reading my own books and if I find a typo, I can have all the files updated in a half hour. Now I’ve got a dozen copies or so with typos, which I might be able to sell at a discount, but will most likely trash.

Next, let’s look at trends: (as of August and September)

So what reversed this downward trend? Towards the end of August, having only sold one book, I entered Duke 1 into amazon’s KDP Select and offered it free for five days. Those who enjoyed Duke 1 went on to buy Duke 2 and 3, and it generated enough buzz that others were buying Duke 1 after the promotion ended, as you can see in these charts: (before and after)

Some words of advice on offering your book for free:

1) as you can see with the Duke 1 trendline, it didn’t have much effect on the individual book, but more so on the books as a whole. Offer a book for free only if you also have related books.

2) offering a book for free attracts ‘bookmonsters’. These people aren’t serious in their interest of your book and they read it only because it’s free and they read it only to slam it. Duke 1 was new, virginal in ratings, and now has a 2-star rating because of a couple of bookmonsters; if I don’t get more positive ratings soon, the book and the whole series will be dead. Only offer your book for free after you have a positive-rating buffer and your book can take the hits by the bookmonsters.

3) in my experience, to get to be a ‘Top 10 FREE gay fiction eBook’, you have to ‘give away’ about 300 eBook copies, so, someone touting ‘Top 10’ has only given away that many. With the PAID category, it’s even less, as people ‘buy’ free books in bulk to maybe someday read later.

Also, those ‘spikes’ in June and July came about by my posting on gay author sites, blogging, commenting on blogs, etc. As you can see, I haven’t hit that ‘magic bullet’ yet, until that happens, all those hours devoted to online marketing don’t create more value than if I’d have written more and published more books.

So, in a nutshell, if I had to do it all over again, I would’ve cut costs, which would’ve made the free promotion unnecessary.

Feel free to ask questions!

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About scavola

author of the gay 'Duke' and GLBT 'ATL Engineering' series
This entry was posted in sales, writing and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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