So it’s 2014 now and I’ve crunched in the numbers for 2013.
2013 was a bad year as far as sales were concerned. I can’t lie about that. Back in 2012, I had two titles and used Amazon’s KDP exclusively. I had two titles and had sales for every giveaway I did. It didn’t amount to much, but I was a new author trying out self-publish, so what did I have to lose? Nothing.
I had been reading a lot online about self-publishing and which platforms I should use. There was basically two options : have all your eggs in one basket and use only KDP or spread your titles to every single outlet available. I figured it was still early in the game (both concerning my career and self-publishing) so why not try a few things, right?
So the plan for 2013 was this. I would have one title on KDP in a category that’s no so competitive so that I can get into bestselling lists more easily. That title was Northern Gothic (think Bukowski meets Al Purdy) and there is NO WAY a book like that would ever become popular. It’s dark, trashy poetry about life in urban decay (not exactly 50 shades of gray, you know?)
I spread out my other titles to every vendors I could find. I opened an account directly with Kobo, used Smashwords for everybody else. Every other vendor on the plant gave me a grand total of 4 sales. That’s it! And those 4 sales required me to do a lengthy book tour and a shitload of work (interviews, guest blogs, etc…) because I’m simply not known enough for people to just go looking for my books. I’m still the guy “you might just give him a try.”
So the year went on and the sales weren’t there, at all. I didn’t know what I was doing wrong. One of my worst titles was “low down,” a noir. But here’s the thing, in 2013, Amazon has diversified its categories, which meant that there now was a “noir” category. Same goes for Satire, my other preferred style.
This is important to me because noir used to be together with the rest of mystery and that’s a problem because “noir” is a genre that’s a lot less popular than mystery in general. Most mystery novels are there to entertain the reader, they tackle murder or crime, but in what I call a “lighter fashion.” It’s like watching Castle rather than Ichi the Killer. Both stories tackle murder and crime, but in two very different ways. If you’ve ever watched Ichi the Killer, you know what I’m talking about.
That said, amazon had introduced a noir category this year so I figured I had a shot at a decent giveaway for one of my titles that was dead in the water. So with the intention of kicking a dead pig, I pulled out Low Down from Smashwords and Kobo. (It actually took a few weeks for the signal to reach all the vendors and pull my books of their virtual shelves.
I also said “fuck it” and didn’t strategize anything. I didn’t tweet (I hate twitter anyways) I didn’t post on my blog or Goodreads. I didn’t pay for a book tour, I didn’t pay for Bookbub or nothing.
I wanted to see how the giveaway worked on its own. I started it on a Monday in December and waited to see the results come in. The first day was slow, but things picked up and landed me in a decent ranking position (I spend two days at no. 1-Free in noir. But then Tony Black did a giveaway the same days I was doing mine and outranked me in a second, but I take a bit of pride in thinking that my books could even stick close to his.)
That single giveaway (requiring no upkeep and money on my part) reached out 700 readers and translated into 5 sales. I know, “five sales, come on!” right? But those five sales were enough to get my book in the top 40 (sales) for Noir for a few days. That might sound silly, but the truth is that Low Down had been doing a few steady sales throughout 2012 and was doing so continually until I pulled it out of KDP and sent it to other vendors. I can safely assume that Low Down would have sold a few copies a month, every month, which would have been enough to keep it in the top 40 for way longer than a few days. (And sticking to a top list is the only way you really manage to get sales going.)
I know that 5 books might sound like nothing, and it certainly isn’t, but those 5 books are still more than everything I’ve gotten from ALL the other ebook vendors out there.
In that sense, my attempt to diversity actually hurt my sales and outreach this year. So for 2014, I’ve decided to go back to Amazon exclusively. As I now have five titles (four books, plus one translation) in there, it will give me 5 giveaways (or kindle countdown deals) every three months. I’m also planning my next release for April, which will give me a sixth novel in the KDP program. And the mechanics of his is that every giveaway has been proven to give me a few sales on all my titles, so having more titles out there reaching new audiences will improve my overall ratings and land me in those top categories I want to be in. Having more books in KDP will make those sales more steady, and so on, so on.
As the ebook tsunami will keep increasing in 2014 (and inevitably drown new titles) I feel lucky I’ve started self-publishing two years ago. It might sound like nothing, but those sales I had in 2012 (and that December 2013 when I came running back to Amazon) are the difference between a fix or six figure ranking and a seven figure ranking.
Some thoughts on what’s next in independent publishing.
I don’t know if I’ll ever go back to other vendors (Apple, Kobo.) I’m a fan of diversity in all things, but I also never expected one of the largest companies on earth to give me a shot at some free publicity (and money) for my books. I’m pretty sure Apple and Kobo could up their game and offer writes something more (I don’t think Sony and Nook are even in the game at this point.) And there’s no way to tell if some upstart can come up with the perfect business plan to outdo everybody else, only the future can tell. I’m not saying it would ever happen, but so far, Amazon is giving me the better deal so that’s where I’m going.
On the other hand, I can’t say that I would use Smashwords again. The company had a good idea, acting as a hub for self-publishing, but as their own platform doesn’t sell that many books, they mostly rely on other vendors to do their work and since those vendors have figured they were better off opening their own self-publishing hubs, Smashwords is becoming less and less relevant (much like Lulu,com, whose appeal was to be able to sell printed books on amazon before Createspace came in and kill their market.)
So if I had to make two predictions for the future: the demise of Smashwords and lulu.com (whose only appeal to me is that they print good quality hardcover books, which I do one run of to sell to friends and family because I like it, I do lose money every time I do that, but DAMN, does a hardcover book look good.) Then again, if Createspace starts offering the hardcover option, that will definitely be the nail in the coffin for Lulu.com.
Something else I’m going to try for 2014 is writing short fiction. I was never a fan of literary magazines. The talent seemed thing and my shit never fit in there, especially not here in Canada. But I’ve become more and more interested in a lot of these “genre” e-magazines that have popped up online. Some of them are doing pretty good and while I have no doubt they couldn’t have been sustainable in a print economy, I’m pretty sure they’re going to stick around on the ebook market. I’d like to get into that wagon, send a few shorts a year to some magazines I like online, see if I could get extend my readership there.
That’s pretty much it for now. Thanks for reading.