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.
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?
Simply putting an e-book out there ain’t going to accomplish much.
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.
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!
December 6, 2010 @ 10:09 am
As a relatively unknown author with a well-reviewed e-book out there, I can confirm all of your conclusions. My sales were excellent for an e-book (experimental one at that) and an author with my background, but I still have a long way to go.
In my opinion, it’s extremely valuable to know “how” to be your own sales force and online marketer. But, as you said, it doesn’t replace the core of your “business,” which is writing.
Jim C. Hines
December 6, 2010 @ 10:13 am
That makes sense. One way or another, it’s still self-publishing, and my take on it is that you can make self-publishing work, but you need to be both a good writer and a very good salesperson/marketer.
I don’t know if I could do the sales/marketing side, but I know I don’t want to. Which means, I suspect, that my own little self-pubbed e-book is never going to make me rich…
December 6, 2010 @ 10:19 am
Thanks for posting this – it reminded me that I meant to go buy it!
Jim C. Hines
December 6, 2010 @ 10:21 am
You’re welcome! And also, thank you!
December 6, 2010 @ 10:22 am
“The Queen of Crows” was my way of figuring that out. This is exactly why writers need the publishing industry. It’s not just about distribution: sure, the internet has broken down those distribution channels and made works more accessible to millions of readers. But just because something is accessible, doesn’t mean people are going to buy it. There’s a lot of trust and brand recognition that readers have with established publishers. For writers, it’s about the opportunity to make a living and sell copies (plural)–rather than sell one or two copies a month.
I know that people point out examples of successful self-published books, but it is the exception and not the rule. It can be a supplemental income stream, but I’d rather work with a publisher and teach them online marketing than do it myself.
What was that saying again? If all boats float…
Tweets that mention Jim C. Hines » E-book Experiment, Part 2 -- Topsy.com
December 6, 2010 @ 10:35 am
[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Monica Valentinelli, Jim C. Hines. Jim C. Hines said: New Post: E-book Experiment, Part 2 http://bit.ly/gu7Vhg […]
December 6, 2010 @ 12:51 pm
As the person who did the conversion, it would have cost more than $70. That said, I stand behind the value.
Though I’m going to have to question the validity of this as an experiment. Yes, you’ve not promoted it – but I didn’t even see it on the bibliography section of this site, let alone under “novels”. The only mentions I found (and presumably I’m more likely to find it when looking) are the few entries in the blog.
I think those who come to your blog are the most likely to want your stuff – the easier it is to find (and buy) your work, the better off it is for you.
Jim C. Hines
December 6, 2010 @ 12:53 pm
Steven is anyone, anywhere, questioning the value of the conversion? You’re jumping to defend something that, to the best of my knowledge, nobody has attacked.
December 6, 2010 @ 1:23 pm
Sorry, the earlier version got eaten and I was rewriting quickly. I meant to agree that it would have cost more to have converted than what you’ve made on it so far. The longer version I wrote (again, eaten by a cruel misclick on my part) went on about how I’ve learned that your observation about the time needed to learn to do it properly is absolutely warranted. It’s one of those things that’s easy to do, hard to do well.
My tone may sound sharper than I intended because I’ve been dealing with this same issue, but as a third party in regards to cover art and layout.
I’ve had a bit of a sporky day, but I really didn’t mean to come off as defensive with that bit. I did not think you were attacking me at all.
My real point was the next bit, which I’ll separate out to avoid confusion.
December 6, 2010 @ 1:28 pm
The real point I wanted to make was that the book is rather invisible on the site. While you acknowledged the difference between your established series work and this mainstream standalone, there’s not a mention of Goldfish Dreams outside of the blog.
Honestly, I would have liked to see it mentioned here on your website and even potentially sold here. Maybe it would have an effect, maybe not. (At the very least, you’d have 30% greater profits from any copies sold on your site…) But my point was that without the mentions here on your site, comparing the DAW books to Goldfish Dreams is comparing apples and rocking chairs (because comparing apples and oranges is… well, here.
Jim C. Hines
December 6, 2010 @ 1:30 pm
Ah, got it. Well in that case, never mind 🙂
As for your point about the experiment, well, yeah … it’s not a perfect experiment. Way too many uncontrolled variables, and it’s pretty easy to poke holes in the comparisons, too. (The fantasy novels have more professional covers, are available via more outlets, etc…)
But as a response to the idea that all you have to do is put out a $2.99 e-book and the money will come flooding in, I think it busts that claim pretty well.
Jim C. Hines
December 6, 2010 @ 1:31 pm
Getting Goldfish Dreams onto the Bibliography is on the To Do list. I got started on that a few weeks ago, and it screwed up the formatting of the page. No idea why. Haven’t had time to get back to it yet.
December 6, 2010 @ 1:33 pm
Oh, yes. I think you can very safely call that busted.
December 6, 2010 @ 3:24 pm
A little off subject, but thanks for making your books available on Kindle and for enabling the text to speech feature. I have some health issues that cause eye fatigue and blurry vision from time to time so it’s nice to either boost the text to embarassingly huge or have the kindle read to me. I will be rebuying all of your books as ebooks soon. They’re worth reading again and again in my humble opinion.
Jim C. Hines
December 6, 2010 @ 3:27 pm
In this case, the thanks go to my publisher. DAW is the one who handles the formatting and setup for my goblin and princess e-books. I’m very glad they enabled that feature, though!
December 6, 2010 @ 4:01 pm
Yep, I’m with both of you on this one. I experimented with an ebook (haha, this feels a bit like a politician confessing to smoking marijuana in college…) and while I learned a lot, it mostly just confirmed that I still want an agent and a traditional book deal and all that.
(Note: I never thought my ebook would help me bypass that part of the biz — I didn’t even want it to! — but I did want to see *what* an ebook could do. Short answer: Not that much.)
Thanks for the reminder that “all those ebook success stories” are truly the exception, not the rule. (And honestly, since they’re self-reported, who even knows if they’re all real…)
December 6, 2010 @ 4:08 pm
Kristan, Aren’t all the “book success stories”, e or not, the exception rather than the rule? Are there studies showing the percentage of success\failure for ebook submissions compared to standard publishing submissions? I would think one big difference in going toward the ebook market is that ebooks are easier to self-publish, and therefore the book may sell some copies where it may never be published at all traditionally. The again, maybe it never should be published :-)It seems the current market wants books published both ways in tandem – traditionally for “proof” that the book is worth reading, and electronically for ease of portability.
December 6, 2010 @ 4:14 pm
Well, haha, yes that’s true. But I think ebook success is often touted as “so easy!” or “no middle men!” or “look, I made a thousand dollars last month without even trying!” Whereas even the most successful authors usually admit to putting in a ton of hard work over several years, getting lots of rejections, etc.
I’m not begrudging anyone who finds success in either format. I’m just saying that it’s easy (especially with something relatively new like ebooks) to get carried away with unfounded hopes. So it’s refreshing to have a traditionally published author saying, Whoa buddy, it’s not always that simple.
I think you’re right, though: the market wants both types of books, for various reasons. It’ll be interesting to see where that drives publishing and how that changes things for authors in the years to come.
December 7, 2010 @ 2:01 pm
I agree that a much lower price really doesn’t sell backlist. Most backlist, for those of us who aren’t bestsellers with the major publishers, will just sit there, whatever the price.
About a year ago, Amazon/Kindle drastically dropped the price of one of my publishers’ novels which were already reasonably priced and several dollars below the massmarket price. Over fifty of us from that publisher shared sales figures over that three quarters period, and none of us saw an increase in sales. In fact, some of us saw a decrease in sales because we stopped promoting those books until our publisher got Amazon to bring the prices back up.
Even the author who has moved beyond small press to a major publisher and has been on the important bestseller lists more than once hadn’t moved any of her books.
Just out of curiosity, I decided to see how the lower price increased my books’ visibility. Neither was listed in any special “sales” section. I narrowed down the search parameters as far as I could by genre then sorted by price, lowest price first. After thirty pages beyond the freebies, I got bored and stopped looking for my books. So much for getting sales through browsing.
Backlist has to be hand sold with author’s promotion, or it just hides in a vast sea of backlist never to be found.
Jim C. Hines
December 8, 2010 @ 8:56 am
Hm … I don’t know. I agree with you in that my backlist never sells anywhere near as well as my new releases. On the other hand, my books with DAW continue to sell steadily each week, even the book that’s been out for more than four years now. They do that even without much real promotion by me.
But yes — just putting it out there doesn’t do much, given the sheer number of books out there. You’re one voice among thousands.
I suspect mass/number is a factor too. The larger your backlist, the more they’ll feed each other’s sales, if that makes sense? But I’m just guessing now…
January 16, 2011 @ 12:48 pm
Sorry to reply to such an old comment, but I thought I’d offer another guess as to the difference between backlist sales here.
Series may be good for backlist sales. If someone comes across one book they like, they might pick up the entire series. And both the Princesses books and the Goblins books are fantasy.
By contrast, a quick look at marilynnbyerly.com shows as far as I can tell stand-alone novels sorted into four different genres.
The first just seems to have more appeal of the “if I liked one, I might like the others”-kind.
If I picked up a SF adventure and liked it enough to check what else the author has written, it’s still highly unlikely that I would pick up one of their romance books. Other way round, I know people who refuse to read fantasy/paranormal or science fiction.
Jim C. Hines
January 17, 2011 @ 4:51 pm
I’m still a fairly new author, and I don’t actually have a backlist to republish yet. But it’s something I’d love to try at some point down the road, assuming nothing better comes along.