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Friday, March 20, 2015

Publishing Year One: The Dimming Spark



Now it’s time to get to the deep, painful truth about publishing. You’re not special. I’m not special. So if you think that you can get thousands of sales on Day One with your first published work, you have an overactive imagination. Or you forced your church group/college dorm-mates/professional organization to buy copies. Then maybe you can attain that goal. 

I didn’t expect more than ten or fifteen sales on the launch day of Unfolding Life. Heck, I wasn’t even expecting much more than that in the first week. I did, however, expect to see a steady one or two sales a week throughout the year. Didn’t quite work out that way. I did have a one-year sales goal and I’m so far off from it that I’m simply too embarrassed to give you the number. But we can totally talk in percentages to help me save face. 

The truth is that 22% of my yearly sales happened in the first five days after the book launch. And of the 22%, I bought 6% of the books sold (promotional giveaways). Unfortunately, after the first week of sales, they slacked off. Oh… who are we kidding? They stopped altogether. I kept up my promotional efforts, but I just couldn’t close the deal. 

If At First You Don’t Succeed, Give it Away

So I decided to utilize the tools provided to me by Kindle Select. About a month after publishing, I created a free day to get some book sales, even if they didn’t make any money. For most authors, this tactic is used to boost after-promotion sales. This is the day where I sold the bulk of my yearly sales. The upside of this is that for at least a few hours, my book was listed as the #1 selling book in the haiku category. Three days later, the book slid back into ranking obscurity. 

The downside, aside from the lack of money coming in, was that I used this promotion to boost the number of ever-important book reviews. When I give books away for free, whether through a promotion like this or individually to reviewers, I don’t expect to get 100% of the reviews. I really only aim for a 20% review rate. At this point in the process, I still only have about an 8% review rate—and I’m really lucky to have that. 

Tsk, Tsk Amazon

Although I would rather forget about it, we have to talk about Amazon’s horrible return policy when it comes to ebooks. Amazon has the nerve to let someone return an ebook for a full refund up to seven days after purchase. Um, what? No, Amazon! My book is only 60 pages long cover to cover and the fact that anyone can buy it, consume it, then say they didn’t like and get their money back is just plain stupid. Restaurants may have to do that when you hate your food, but something like a book shouldn’t be given that much time to say, “Oh, nevermind.” Anyone heard of buyer’s remorse? You bought a book you didn’t like. Just suck it up and move on! I have a closet full of terrible books that I purchased. I don’t whine to get my money back. 

This whole thing may make me a little angry, but in reality self-published authors deal with this all the time. My only post-promotion sale ended up being a return. Not only that, it was a return from the person who decided to leave the less-than-stellar review. Now, I think you should be kind enough to choose one or the other. You didn’t like the book? Fine. Either take the $2.99 hit and leave a bad review, or return the book and keep your mouth shut. It’s just plain mean to do both, especially since your review is one of the factors contributing to lack of sales from then on. (*Note: I was a good little author and didn’t engage in a spat over a negative review, especially since it was well written and made valid points. But I did do my research on the reviewer. This person was both a chronic returner AND hated everything they ever read. So there.)

Summer Slump

Then summer came and went. I distracted myself with other projects and didn’t promote Unfolding Life very much. After the free day and the return, I didn’t sell another book all summer. I was a little disappointed because I knew it meant I would never meet my yearly sales goal, even if a miracle occurred. And let’s not waste a good miracle on book sales when I’m still single. ;-)

The only thing I could do was to keep getting the word out. Around Christmas, the opportunity to include the book (as a $0.99 countdown deal) in the Read Tuesday catalog seemed like the perfect way to get holiday sales. I did the countdown deal for the maximum time allowed.  

Not. One. Sale. 

At this point, I was not surprised. Not one bit. Unfolding Life had unfolded, and it lived a very short life.

Absent Stacks of Paperbacks

The one aspect of this process I still haven’t mentioned is the paperback version of the book. I was first confused about KDP Select’s exclusivity rules and thought I couldn’t publish another version for 90 days (turns out it only pertains to ebook versions with other retailers). So I did create a paperback version and put it up for sale on Createspace and through Amazon. I didn’t promote it as hard as the ebook version, and because I didn’t want to have a bunch of copies coming to my door where my family would find out I published something, I didn’t buy any copies to give out or create a Goodreads giveaway with. Yes, they know I’m a writer—but there’s no need for them to read anything I write! I have issues, I know. I still haven’t sold a single paperback copy. Not even to myself.

(*Note: Since originally writing this post at the beginning of March, I have made paperback sales--a nice surprise!)

This was certainly an eye-opener. Tomorrow I’m going to talk about those pesky things I should have done, but didn’t.

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