As I continue with my self-promotion campaign via blogging, creating a website dedicated to my crime novel series and posting on social media, in preparation for self-publishing this summer, I was happy to come across an optimistic article written by Harry Bingham.
I like Harry, as he knows the publishing business as an author:
In the article What Fiction Decline? An Indie Author’s Asking, he makes astute points about the inaccuracies of many surveys of publishing, which ignore crucial sales figures—such as Amazon’s KDP—which Amazon doesn’t share with anyone. No one would take a survey of traffic seriously, if it only counted vehicles on two-lane and local roads, ignoring motorways/freeways, so why embrace doom and gloom when the Association of American Publishers and the Publishers Association in Britain say things are getting worse?
The fact is that nothing at all in my interactions with readers makes me feel like I’m selling horses to car owners. Indeed, if my email inbox is anything to go by, I’m selling horses to people who really, really like horses. The appetite for good, absorbing, well-written fiction feels to me as intense now as it ever did.
I was glad to read this paragraph: I’m still unsure about what I’m doing with self-promotion and self-publishing, but it feels more like progress than querying cloth-eared literary agents who either ignore me completely or only deign to reply after three months with a form letter of rejection.
People hunger for new stories, so perhaps I’ll find an audience.
It goes to prove how unregulated the internet is, with corporations such as Google and Amazon happy to take money from unscrupulous traders without checking what it is they’re selling. Just think of the plagiarism scandal on Amazon books.
Writing blogger Kristen Lamb recently posted a long article about the collapse and purchase of Barnes & Noble, which is worth a read if you’re confused about the current state of publishing and book selling.
It’s worth reading the comments below the article from writers and B & N employees. One of them mentions James Daunt’s appalling attitude to his Waterstones employees’ wages, which is confirmed in this article:
To see him as a saviour riding in to rescue B & N and its staff, customers and the writers that create its product is laughable. He’s a wealthy man out to make money from what he can, one of the 1% who rule the world who favour the best-selling authors who make the most profit. We all know the phrase “It’s just business”—which is doublespeak for “I’ve behaved appallingly to get what I wanted and there’s nothing you can do about it”—book-selling and publishing are businesses…the most vulnerable will be oppressed. That includes authors.
Seeing as how they’re establishing a bricks and mortar presence, it’s possible they’ll buy some of the old B & N stores.
* Although many people who work in the book trade love books, be they book-sellers, editors, literary agents, book cover artists or publishers, this doesn’t necessarily translate into respect or recompense for the writers on whom the whole business depends. For any surveys that show there’s been an increase in readership, most of the public are indifferent to books and their creators. As an author, it sometimes feels like everyone is against you—even those who are supposed to be on your side.
Writers are the foundation stones of the book business. If we’re not treated properly the whole building will collapse. Imagine if a supermarket chain decided to only stock the 100 best-selling food products, not promoting anything new or unusual. They wouldn’t last long but might start to sell novelty items to bring more buyers in, maybe have a café, as B & N did. If you don’t believe in what you’re selling, why should anyone buy it? That holds true for the author, their agent, the publisher and then the book shop.
* At the moment, I’m at a crossroads with my writing career. After being with Smashwords for years, I recently transferred to Draft2Digital. I’m happy with their efficient operation, but feel like my Cornish Detective series might sell better on Amazon. Some authors have made millions from being on Amazon.
But, I resent their controlling ways. Effectively, they’re an intelligence agency gathering information on their traders and customers. This blog is available for whoever wants to read it, but I don’t know who’s got access to it. It doesn’t fill me confidence to know that Amazon is spying on me.
I’m loathe to go exclusive with them for my crime novels. As someone says in reply to Kristen Lamb’s article:
...some authors have figured out a sweet spot to milk a good living out of KDP Select. That’s fine, but having all their eggs in one basket could come back to bite them in a massive way if Amazon arbitrarily decides one day to change the payout structure.
I’ve had some experience of their forceful marketing tactics when they suggested I participate in bundling my titles with other low-selling writers’ eBooks, which would have yielded me about 10c profit for each sale! Books are like light bulbs or bars of soap to Amazon.
* Instead, I’ll be staying ‘wide’ for my book launch this summer. I believe in Ernst Schumacher’s Small Is Beautiful approach to economics and to living. I intend to market and publish at a manageable and personal level, going grassroots with my marketing, through local libraries, reading and writing groups, Cornish media, self-publishing my series via the D2D aggregator and also selling directly from my dedicated website.
Relying on faceless corporations and huge book store chains means I’d be giving away the tiny amount of power I have over my career. That’s not to say that I wouldn’t grab a publishing deal with one of the Big 5, as happened to James Oswald:
For now, though, I intend to self-publish in eBook format, not worrying about POD until it’s requested by readers.
Writing is a lonely task. Many of us yearn for the support and validation of signing with an agent, getting a traditional publishing contract or interacting with Amazon’s ‘experts’ to market our eBooks, but any of those can fail to provide what they’ve promised. Then what?
It would be lovely to see your novel on a book store shelf, but what if they don’t promote it all? What if the whole business fails? It happens, however big the company. Bosses stick their heads in the sand, pretending that all’s well. Even Jeff Bezos predicted that Amazon would fail one day:
One thing that’s not mentioned in Reedsy’s otherwise excellent article is a drawback of ‘going wide’—that is, using an aggregator to distribute your books or doing it yourself, publishing to Apple, Kobo, etc one by one. Should you change your mind, deciding to sign to KDP Select, then Amazon will insist that you take all your titles off whatever sites they’re for sale, before they allow you onto their hallowed ground. In theory, this should happen when you unpublish them on Smashwords or D2D, but in reality, it can take months and many emails to vendors before that happens—meaning your books are in the twilight zone, off most sales venues, but not on KDP Select.
At the moment, I’m contemplating removing my books from D2D to go with KDP Select for my Cornish Detective series, which I think makes commercial sense, but looks like creating loads more frustration for me.
No one said it would be easy (but, why does it have to be so hard?)
I’m currently trying to get all of my ducks in a row to begin self-publishing my crime novel series, and I was wondering how best to tackle Print On Demand, so I appreciated what she said:
“If you choose self-publishing, you have to give up the fantasy of seeing your book in the window of your favorite bookstore chain.
It might help to forget paper books altogether. I often see newbies obsessing about choosing a POD company and getting bookstore distribution. But they’re worrying needlessly.
That’s because 90% of the successful indie’s profits usually come from ebooks.“
Even using respectable traders offering services that deliver, it’s easy to haemorrhage money. I’ve struggled to set up an author blog on WordPress, but at least I’ve done so for free. Feeling frustrated last night, wondering what I was doing trying to master which plug-in was the best to create a ‘splash page’, I totted up how much I could have spent to get to the same point, had I gone with a paid web service provider and bought premium themes and widgets, coming up with £575.
Some people think that paying for something is a guarantee that it will work, which is why there are way more thriving vanity publishers than there are prosperous authors.
It caught my eye, as in 2019 I’ve forsaken writing the sixth story in my Cornish Detective series in favour of marketing the first five titles—there’s not much point in baking another cake when the rest are going stale on the shelves!
I like Konrath’s grumpy, unfiltered and confrontational style of commenting on the publishing industry, and recognised much of what he says in his assessment of what worked to sell his own books. He sums up by saying:
My career has been all over the place, and I’ve tried so many new and different things. I’ve learned from my many failures, and if I had to do it all over, I’d tell my younger self: “One brand, one genre, stop experimenting, stop being a perfectionist, and just write five good books a year in the same series. Make sure they are professionally edited and formatted, have great covers and descriptions, keep length under 75k words, and make sure they have updated, clickable bibliographies in the back matter, pre-order pages for the next release, and newsletter sign-up forms.”
That’s it. That’s the sum total of my years of knowledge and experience.
[read the comments below the article]
Broadly, he agrees with the oft-quoted William Goldman:
Like Konrath and crime writer James Oswald my self-marketing is relying on blogging and having a website devoted to my crime series, with a view to building a mailing list of potential readers to send a newsletter to; my social media presence will be minimal. I intend to follow Oswald’s tactic of making the first book free, self-publishing the sequel at the same time at an attractive price—hoping to get the ball rolling.
Who knows if it will work?
As Konrath says:
It still comes down to luck.
Stop worrying. This is all out of your control.
Stop trying to find the answer. There is no answer. No answer, no logic, no reason, not even any scientific cause and effect.
It’s all luck.
I’ve long had a stoical approach to life, which has come in useful over the last six years since I returned to creative writing. Editing and querying require infinite levels of perseverance.
As for luck, I don’t know, for it’s an elusive sprite that lands on some people while avoiding my own arm!
I’ll keep on keeping on, even though I miss writing, for I reckon that building an author platform online will be more of a help than a hindrance. As champion golfer, Gary Player is reputed to have said:The harder I practice, the luckier I get.
How much do you think that luck counts in your writing career?
One thing that Mark Dawson and Russell Blake share is how prolific they are. I thought that I was doing well to complete five novels in four years, a total word count of 480,000 words, but Dawson has written 23 books in four years!
Curious about this, I had a quick look at these two authors’ work on Amazon, which allows one to access the first few pages. Initial impressions are that it’s action-driven, with little subtlety, very short chapters and the longest word appears to be Kalashnikov!
It’s certainly not literature, but few great works of literature are adapted into television series or movies.
I’m considering putting more work into the 45 titles I’ve already self-published on Amazon and Smashwords (and the vendors they distribute to), as querying literary agents is such a wearisome and time-consuming activity. I’m put off by the thought of having to schmooze through blogging, social media and my long dormant website. Such a campaign would be to generate interest in me as a writer, to launch my first novel.
I’d prefer to be writing new books—but if they ain’t selling, what’s the point?
The dreaded process of discoverability is a tough nut to crack, and it’s made easier if the writer is a marketing expert. Considering the amount of work Mark Dawson has done, it’s certain he employed advertising industry experts…he admits to spending hundreds of pounds on advertising, which is not something most of us can afford. Hit someone over the head enough times, and they soon get the message. It’s a truism in advertising that the more a product is promoted, the shoddier it is in quality—handmade and high-quality items don’t need promoting, as they sell themselves—how often do you see an advert for Rolls-Royce?
Newspapers are often irresponsible in the articles they feature, which make it look easy-peasy to achieve success through self-publishing. Like any human endeavour, it’s only a few people who win through. Suggesting that simply publishing your novel on Amazon Kindle Select will make you a millionaire, is as daft as saying taking up running will win you an Olympic gold medal!
Whoever said ‘Life isn’t a popularity contest’ didn’t know about ebooks!
Ros Barber makes some valid points, especially when she highlights how much time a writer needs to devote to marketing if they self-publish. It’s what put me off uploading ebooks, when I realised that I’d need to spend more time on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and writing entries for my blog than I did in creating my new novel. Hence, I tried querying literary agents in the hope that if I got a publishing deal the book company would promote me.
It’s worth clicking on the link to Ros Barber’s blog, where she lays out how much she’s earned from her novels.
This is an interesting article, which argues that self-publishing and putting our books before the public, is just another way of entering a slush-pile – but one with more freedom to escape from, by providing discerning readers with what they want to read:
My first foray into digital self-publishing was in 2013-2014. I’d written a lot of poems and song lyrics and a dozen novellas and short stories, so finding the Smashwordsbook distribution site offered me a free way of getting my work out there.
Laughably, I first published in time for Christmas, thinking to make a few quid, totally ignorant of how crucial marketing and self-promotion are. Without making potential readers aware of who I am and what my books are about, uploading a manuscript started to feel like emptying a bucket of water into an ocean.
I learnt a lot about digital publishing from Smashwords‘ founder Mark Coker, and his style and marketing guides are free and worth a look.
I self-published the same titles on Amazon, using their basic KDP option, but resisted theirSelect option, which gives higher royalties, as it insists on exclusivity. This would have meant me taking down all of the 44 titles Smashwords had published and distributed to other booksellers. In theory, this is easy to do, but in practice, it can take weeks. I disliked Amazon‘s bossy attitude.
I’ve spent the last four years writing five crime novels, occasionally running querying campaigns of literary agents when I felt like being ignored or rejected!
In 2019, I’m dedicating myself to selling me as an author and my books as commercially viable products. I’ve queried 88 agents, but increasingly, I’m favouring a return to self-publishing. Whether I do this or if I luck into a publishing contract with a book company, I’m still going to have blog, tweet and post on social media to let the reading world know I exist. I’ve been singing away, wondering if anyone can hear me.
As part of making myself look good, I reformatted the ebooks on Smashwords, adding hyperlinks from the Table of Contents to chapter headings, to ease navigation for Kindle users. I also tidied my biography and a self-interview. This is easily the most mind-numbing and repetitive task I’ve done in writing books, making editing feel like a walk in the park. With Smashwords, the changes have to be made individually for each book.
It was partly the slowness of conforming to Smashwords style requirements, that helped me find another book distribution operator calledDraft2Digital while searching for competitors.
This article compares Smashwords and Draft2Digital.
There’s nothing to prevent me from having my ebooks distributed by Smashwords and Draft2Digital, keeping them on Amazon. The main drawback will be duplication, including with ISBNs, which Smashwords and Draft2Digital offer for free…Amazon doesn’t require them, as they use their own ASIN (Amazon Standard Identification Number).
Apparently, there’s an easy way of migrating listings on Smashwords over to Draft2Digital, but this would feel disloyal to me.
What do you think of Draft2Digital?
Have any of you used them or Smashwords?
What has been your experience with Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing?