Friday, 7 August 2015

Giving Up or: Getting on With It

One Year On

Nearly twelve months back I set out into the world of self-publishing. This post is by way of a farewell (for the time being, anyway) and a summary of this experience.

My main conclusion: There is money in self-publishing. I have not seen it personally, but I'm confident it's there, and it's increasing. This is evidenced in part by the increase in the numbers of on-line vendors and in part by the number of authors they support. It is also evidenced by the increasing interest in self-published writers by major publishing houses.

However, as in any market where barriers to entry is low, profits per player are also low. This means it takes a long, long time to make a return as a self-published writer (actually, it takes a long time to make a return as any kind of writer, self-published or not). To take this further, I have a suspicion that many self-published writers are not actually supplying content to readers, but are instead providing income to retailers. Over the last year my outgoings to Amazon have been nearly ten times greater than the income provided from Amazon.

In defence of the 'Zon, this is because Amazon's publishing arm (Createspace) is relatively easy to use and offers international distribution. But I had an epiphany the other day when I thought about where the money was flowing, and in which direction, because the money flow tells us who the customer really is. If I was Amazon, and Amazon is really really smart, so they've probably already started doing this, they'll offer tiered advertising - that is, advertising at various rates, and target the large publishing houses with deeper pockets than self-pub indies. And this will further increase their revenue from writer-as-customer.

Okay, so that's all very interesting and intellectual and whatever, but how have I gone this year? Have I achieved my goal of financial independence through writing fiction.

Um, no.

Goal Achievement? Zero

Here's a brief summary of my year-to-date performance - approx 10 months.

(Dollars are NZ dollars, all figures are approximate only. These figures represent only self-pub sales through on-line retailers, not sales through retail outlets or royalties from publishers.)

income $240
titles produced 3
outlay $7000
downloads/loans/sales per month       bw 4-100
platforms published on 8

  1. Obviously, I have not made a truck load of money.
  2. I suspect this is pretty normal for new self-publishers. Most authors say that its only after title #5 that things begin to gather momentum. Some say not until title #20!


Some metrics are trending upwards. For me, things like social media engagement, number of followers and number of platforms accessed have increased. Reviews are generally positive (I hate the review process. It's horrible. Like baring your soul to an uncaring world) and although sales volume is low, it is steady. Inner Fire (the only title I've put into booksellers) remains on the shelves stores, as does A Necklace of Souls. 

Plus, and this is a big plus, my outlay is complete. I don't have to spend anything more on these three titles unless I want to. The covers are done, formatting complete, across a range of platforms. I'm looking at new marketing angles and avenues, ways of introducing them to a new audience. I'm wondering about audio. 

I'm producing new content - I'm half-way through two new titles and I really really need to begin on the final to the SoulNecklace Stories. Plus, I have another title coming out next month called The Prankster and the Ghost. A middle-grade fiction, it's totally paid for already, so the costs set out above include the outlay for that item.

My costs per title are reducing. While my first self-published title, Inner Fire, cost over $4000 in editing, formatting, printing and publicity, my most recent title, The Prankster and the Ghost, has cost closer to $800. This is because I know how to format myself now, I don't bother with the marketer and I don't print any more than ten copies. A Facebook ad, a Goodreads giveaway, good word-of-mouth and clever management of Amazon's search tags seems more effective. 

Top Tips

If I had to give ten tips to myself of twelve months ago, they would be this:

  1. Don't do it for the money, but keep an eye on your outgoings.
  2. Write the best book you can. If you're not a hundred and one percent happy, don't publish it. 
  3. Endings matter. The end of a book is what a reader remembers, and often shapes their review. (As a sideline: I am really really really pleased with the ending of Prankster. I think it is by far and away the best chapter I have ever written. It has taken me nearly three years to get it right and every time I read it I'm so pleased I spent that long on it.)
  4. Learn to format for yourself. I am a last-minute editor. There's always something I want to change or improve, and it gets expensive if you pay someone else to do it. If I was starting out again and had all the time in the world, I would learn inDesign. (It is so cool to design and layout the interior of a book in the way you want. Writers always get excited by the cover, and the cover is of course important, but the way the book feels inside is also important.)
  5. Always do a print version. It's a bit more hassle, but printed copies are nice on shelves, and they are good as giveaways and my reviewers like to have them. Sales of printed copies are slower than digital but they happen and that's cool.
  6. The best way to proof read for errors is to order a printed proof. It costs a bit more, but its really worth it.
  7. Order printed copies with staggered delivery dates. Because I live in New Zealand, I have to allow a two week delay for delivery. So what I do now is order 5 copies at the fastest delivery (that's in about 10 days) and 5 copies at a normal delivery (about a month). This makes the total cost of print copies about $100, or $10 each, so if I sell 5 (which I normally do) I've paid for the delivery.
  8. Don't announce the book is published until you have printed copies on hand. Sometimes people want to buy them off you and its not smart to say 'oh they haven't arrived yet.'
  9. Unless booksellers ask to stock your book, don't bother with retail. It's a lot of hassle, you don't get paid in a timely way, and sale volume is low. I read once that one title across the US is doing well to sell 1200 copies in all US Barnes and Noble stores. I don't know if that's true or not, but in NZ you're doing well to sell 3000 print total, and that's with a publishing house behind you. So unless you're going for discoverability, don't bother.
  10. The only constant is change. This year Kindle Unlimited changed its payment model and Scribd reduced its titles.  iTunes is looking kind of interesting, as does Google. Ingram Spark is looking at moving into bookstores; there's a new platform to integrate with libraries; self-publishers are signing deals with publishers; established writers are going self-pub. Keep flexible in your expectations and continue a little longer in the day job.

End of an Adventure?

So, after nearly a year of blogging, of writing and working incredibly hard, that's it from me. For the time being, anyway.

Would I do it again? Yes. Will I continue in this self-publishing adventure?  Yes, at present. I have another three to five titles that I would like to write, and perhaps one day I'll summarise my learnings into a handy guide, as there's nothing really relevant to the small-market environment of New Zealand. 

However, as I said to myself above (I never listen to myself, though) it pays to keep flexible. As long as I can keep writing, I don't really care if I'm self-published, traditionally published or whatever. What really matters is that people are reading and enjoying my books. 

And, dear Reader, thank you for stopping by this blog series. I hope its been useful to you. And good luck in your own endeavours.