Goldfish Dreams

One Year of Self-Publishing

I’ve self-published three e-books in the past twelve months. Goldfish Dreams [B&N | Amazon] is a mainstream novel about rape and recovery. Goblin Tales [Amazon | B&N] includes five goblin-related short stories. And Kitemaster & Other Stories [B&N | Amazon] collects six of my lighter fantasy tales.

  

It’s been an educational year. Goblin Tales has been the most popular book by far, selling more than 500 copies. Kitemaster comes in second, with just over 100 sales since it came out in mid-August. And then there’s Goldfish Dreams, with 80 sales over the course of an entire year.

Most of my sales have come through Amazon, with B&N in second place. There are a handful from Kobo and iBooks, as well as a few Lulu print sales for Goblin Tales, but Amazon and B&N are the big ones. Here’s what those Amazon (A) and B&N (BN) sales look like broken down by month.

I think the strongest lesson here is that a direct connection to an existing, moderately popular series makes a big difference. Goblin Tales has been and continues to be my strongest seller.

The other thing I’m seeing is a clear dropoff over time, much like my commercially published books.

With Kitemaster, I raised the price from $2.99 to $3.99. I honestly don’t know how much of a difference that made, or whether the increased royalties per sale offset any potential lost sales.

I suspect I could boost the sales numbers a bit by spending more time, energy, and money on promotion, but I’m not sure how much I’d be able to increase sales. What I am sure of is that I don’t have the time or the desire to shift more of my work into promotion.

All total, after expenses, these three self-published titles have brought in a bit over $1000 in royalties.

I’m curious how I’d do self-publishing my backlist titles electronically. I suspect novels would sell significantly better than short fiction collections. But that experiment will have to wait. All of my DAW books are still in print, and with DAW doing the goblin omnibus next year, I don’t expect to see any rights revert back to me any time soon. Which is fine — the books are available and continue to sell, and that’s what counts.

Instead, I’ll be starting work on one more collection: Sister of the Hedge & Other Stories, which will collect some of my more serious stories — including my first rewrite of the Sleeping Beauty tale. I think I’ll price this one at $2.99 again to see what happens. I’m already talking to someone awesome about cover art, and I look forward to sharing what she comes up with. My goal is to have it available by Christmas, when everyone rushes out to buy books for their new Flaming Kindles, or whatever Amazon is calling ’em.

Goblins vs. Goldfish (Another E-book Update)

Spoiler: the goblins win.

Author John Locke recently became the first self-published author to sell more than one million e-books via Amazon. With most of his books at the impulse-buy price of $.99, this means he’s earned probably around $400,000 by my estimation through Amazon. Impressive. Most impressive.

(Is it worth pointing out that this is less than a “traditionally” published author would have earned for the same number of sales, or will that just stir things up?)

Anyway, I figured this was a good time to check in and see how I’ve been doing with my own self-published e-books. Let’s just say I’m not quite ready to join Locke in the million-sales club.

Goldfish Dreams [B&N | Amazon] came out in October of 2010. Goblin Tales [Amazon | B&N | Lulu] was released in March of this year. Both are priced at $2.99, and are DRM-free. Both are available at Amazon and B&N. Goblin Tales is also up at iBooks, Kobo, Wizard’s Tower, and Lulu.

 

As of yesterday, I’ve sold a total of ~430 self-published books. 72 of those (17%) were Goldfish Dreams, and the rest were Goblin Tales. Here’s the breakdown through May, the last full month I have sales figures for. (A refers to Amazon, BN is Barnes and Noble.)

Lulu sales aren’t included on the graph, ’cause I don’t have a nice month-to-month breakdown. To date, I’ve sold 3 PDF downloads and 28 print copies through Lulu, for a grand total of $19.95. By comparison, the ~400 books sold through other venues come to roughly $800 in royalties.

Some thoughts:

  • Amazon and B&N are the two big sellers. E-book sales through other venues have been minuscule.
  • Amazon sold almost four times as many copies of Goldfish Dreams as B&N did, and 2-3 times as many copies of Goblin Tales.
  • Months ago, I was told there’s no reason sales should decrease over time, since it’s not like books are being taken off the shelves, right? But while sales of Goldfish Dreams are too low to draw any real conclusions, sales of Goblin Tales seem to follow a very similar dropping-off curve to sales of my print books. (The June numbers look like they’ll continue in this pattern.)
  • I have no idea whether releasing Kitemaster & Other Stories will have any effect on sales of my other e-books, but I look forward to finding out!
  • Goldfish Dreams is a mainstream novel. Goblin Tales is fantasy. I’ve built a name as a fantasy author, not mainstream. This matters.

Would I have sold better at $.99 like Locke? Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe they’d sell better at $4.99. It’s impossible to say. I’m satisfied enough that I’m continuing to move forward with Kitemaster.

Comments and discussion are welcome, as always.

E-book 2: Electric Jig

For those of you wanting the next update on Goldfish Dreams [B&N | Amazon], I checked the numbers, and it’s selling 1-2 copies per week.  I.e., still not king.  So I figured I’d try something else.  Review copies of an e-book cost me nothing but the time it takes to send an e-mail, right?  If you’re a reviewer and would be interested in a review copy of Goldfish Dreams, (epub or mobi format), please let me know.  I figure I’ll start by giving away a dozen or so copies and we’ll see what happens.

In the meantime, the e-book experiment continues!  I’ve downloaded a copy of Sigil and have been playing around with creating my own epub files, both by working with the software and by reverse engineering the work Steven Saus did for me converting Goldfish Dreams.

I’ve created and uploaded the sample chapter of The Snow Queen’s Shadow as an epub file here.  To those of you with e-book readers who want to check it out, please let me know if you run into any trouble with the file or formatting.  I tested it in iBooks on my phone, and it turned out fairly well, but I’d love to hear how it does on other platforms.

Because you see, once I get all of the bugs worked out, I can take the next step in my e-book journey.  I was thinking that it might be nice to do a little e-pubbed collection of my goblin-related stories.  It would be five short stories, probably priced at either $2.99 or $3.99, called Goblin Tales.

One criticism of my experiment with Goldfish Dreams has been that it’s a mainstream novel, and I haven’t built an audience in that area, so naturally sales aren’t as good.  Short fiction collections don’t tend to sell as well as novels, but Jig and company are in many ways the foundation of my career, so I suspect I’ve got more of an audience for goblin stories.

What do you think?  Goblin Tales: Best Idea Ever, Utter Waste of Time, or Other?

E-book Experiment, Part 2

I’ve updated the Reporting Sexual Harassment in SF/F page with a link to the Geek Feminism Wiki’s Sample Convention Anti-Harassment Policy.  I particularly appreciate the internal guidelines for convention staff.

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Months ago, when I was talking about how my e-book sales were about 3-5% of my print sales, a champion of self-publishing said my problem was that my $6.99 e-books were too expensive, and if I dropped the price to $2.99, I’d have better sales.

So in mid-October, I put my mainstream novel Goldfish Dreams [B&N | Amazon] up for sale as a $2.99, DRM-free e-book.

I posted my first week’s results, and said I’d follow up in a month or so.  Well, over the past weekend I came across a post that mentioned the “great success” authors like Jim Hines and others have had putting their own work out through Amazon, which told me it was definitely time for a follow-up.

I’ve got about six weeks worth of data now.  Are you ready to see what my great success looks like?  B&N doesn’t give a nice week-by-week breakdown, but here are my weekly Amazon Kindle sales.

All total, I’ve sold 21 copies through Amazon.  Add in the 4 copies sold through Barnes & Noble, and I’ve made about $70, selling an average of about 4 copies a week.

For those keeping score at home, this would not even cover the conversion costs for having the files prepped.  (You can do this yourself, of course, if you have the time and the know-how.  I suspect I could have taught myself the tech side, but time is another issue…)

I should note that I’ve done nothing to promote this particular book.  I’ve been busy attending cons, working on short stories, revising Snow Queen, and also doing the day job and taking care of the family as my wife recovers from knee surgery.  But it’s pretty clear to me that simply putting a book out there isn’t enough.

By contrast, I haven’t really been promoting my books with DAW very much these past weeks, either.  In those same six weeks, my books with DAW sold around 2000 print copies (averaging about 300/book), which translates to about a thousand dollars in royalties … $850 for me after my agent takes his cut.  (I have no access to the weekly e-book sales for the DAW books.)

I know there are people making self-pubbed e-books work for them.  My friend Sherwood Smith has been successfully selling some books this way.  I suspect that if I released one of my fantasy titles, either a reprint or an original goblin/princess book, I’d do a lot better.  But Goldfish Dreams is a mainstream title, so doesn’t necessarily tap into my preexisting audience.

I also know that an ongoing, persistent sales effort can drive sales.  I have friends who keep up a pretty constant sales push to sell their e-books, and it does seem to help them sell more books.

But I barely have time to keep up with the blog.  I’d rather keep writing new books and the occasional short story, and let my publisher do most of the work to actually get my books into the hands of readers.

I’ll keep checking in with further data, but my conclusions so far?

  1. Simply putting an e-book out there ain’t going to accomplish much.
  2. Having a preexisting audience helps, but may not do much for cross-genre e-books.  Brand new authors with no audience — you’ve got a steep climb ahead of you.
  3. You are your own sales force.  You can improve your sales, but it will take time away from something else.  (I would advise you to make sure you’re not being obnoxious about it, as author self-promotion can get annoying pretty fast.)

Thoughts and comments are welcome, as always!

E-book Experiment: Week One

Last week, I announced my little experiment, putting my mainstream novel Goldfish Dreams [B&N | Amazon] up for sale as a $2.99, DRM-free e-book.

Amazon was much quicker than B&N to get things uploaded and processed, but the book is now available on both sites.  (And to B&N’s credit, they were able to recognize and link the e-book to the print edition, which Amazon failed to do.)

The sales results after release week?

Amazon: 10 copies sold
B&N: 2 copies sold

Both Amazon and B&N pay roughly $2 royalties per copy, which means I made about $24 that first week.  Really, that’s not too bad — it’s more than I was making when the book was on Fictionwise, where it was priced at about seven bucks.

6 of those sales were from the first day, when I blogged about the book being available on Kindle.  To see how blog hits translate into sales, that post was viewed 3198 times on LJ according to their stats site, with probably a few hundred additional hits from my site, RSS feeds, and Dreamwidth.  A few people also Tweeted about it.

Several folks commented that they’d love to read the book, but either didn’t do e-books or else didn’t like the formats available through Amazon and B&N. 

Over the past week, I spent about an hour updating product info on Amazon and B&N.  I also updated my LJ profile with a link to the book and started doing the same on my web site, but haven’t finished that yet.  Nor have I had time to check into other stores/sales outlets for the book.  This underlined a problem I was anticipating: namely, I don’t know that I have the time to effectively do the self-publishing thing.

I could have spent more time working to promote and sell Goldfish Dreams.  Instead, I finished the first draft of my goblin zombie story.  With limited writing time and two other anthology invites sitting on my desk, not to mention (hopefully) a forthcoming deal for the new series … I just don’t have time to be my own sales force.

The question then becomes, what happens when I sit back and concentrate on the writing?  I will get the site updated, but once I do, will the book sell without my help?  Even a few copies a week could add up to several hundred bucks a year.  Or will it become one of the many forgotten books on Amazon with a sales rank in the three millions?

I have no idea.  I’ll check back in about a month from now to see how things are going.

Experimenting with Kindling

Nifty First Book Friday news: Harry Connolly’s piece has been picked up and reprinted at Black Gate.  Congrats, Harry!

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I’ve talked a bit about e-books and self-publishing.  There are folks like J. A. Konrath who claim to make it work.  When I posted about my electronic royalties, Konrath was one of the first to jump in and say flat-out that $6.99 was too much, and I would make more if the books were cheaper.

I decided to experiment.  I’ve taken my mainstream novel Goldfish Dreams and have released it in Amazon’s Kindle store.  There’s no DRM, and I priced it at $2.99 for worldwide distribution. I’ve also uploaded it to B&N.  (The B&N version is still being processed.)

I intend to be 100% transparent about this, sharing sales and royalties and the rest.  I’m as curious as anyone to see what happens.

Here are the advantages I believe I have, going into this:

  • I’m a midlist fantasy author, so readers will (hopefully) have some confidence that I can write a decent book.
  • I’ve got a moderate online following.  At best guess, about 2000 people see the blog each day.  I don’t expect everyone to rush out and buy the book, but I suspect some will.
  • Goldfish Dreams is a rerelease of an out of print book from a small press, so it’s already been through the gatekeepers once, and has benefited from some editorial feedback.

On the other hand, this is a mainstream book, so I’m not sure how much my stature as a fantasy author will help.  And as a reprint of an out-of-print book, I lose the initial friends & family sales, because many of them already have the printed book.

My investment so far:

  • Steven Saus did the e-book conversion, because it quickly became apparent I would need many hours to teach myself and prep the files.  Steven did a very nice job putting the book together in multiple formats and checking to make sure everything was clean and ready to go.
  • The cover art is recycled, with permission, from an unused concept from the original print release.  I added a blurb from Heinz Insu Fenkl.
  • Setting up accounts on Amazon and B&N and getting the books uploaded took an hour or so of my time.

I honestly don’t know what to expect.  I imagine there will be some initial sales, but how many?  I couldn’t say.  And what will happen in the long term?  Will sales grow over time or die off?  I keep reading arguments about how e-books can be so much more profitable for authors.  Will I actually see a significant profit?  Your guess is as good as mine.

I am not going to start going all-out on advertising and self-promotion.  For one thing, I don’t have the time.  For another, that sort of thing gets annoying fast.  I’ll post updates about the experiment, but I’m not going to become That Guy.

Let the experiment begin!

Where to purchase:

  • Amazon
  • B&N – Forthcoming
  • Other suggestions?

Description: Eileen Greenwood’s first year at Southern Michigan University means freedom: freedom from the brother who molested her, freedom from the father who refused to believe her, and freedom from the sister who turned her back on it all. Eileen desperately wants to escape the past and live her life, but nightmares and flashbacks make it impossible to forget what she endured. Instead, she becomes obsessed with learning what transformed her brother into a predator.  In the effort to understand, she risks her health, her friendships, and her future. She will face both her own memories of the past, and a monster far worse than her brother … if she can find the strength to confront him.

Jim C. Hines