Last year, I wrote a piece called “My Realities—How to Market Your Book or Watch It Die.” I ended the piece explaining what I was about to do with three books, and now I can tell you what I’ve learned from it.
First, perception is so much about where you stand. If you’re a new writer wanting to be published, you probably have (and should have) great hopes. One reason to be happy is you know if a traditional route to publication doesn’t work, there’s always self-publishing or a something close to it known as “indie publishing.”
If you’re a well-known writer, such as Margaret Atwood, John Irving, Jennifer Egan, Michael Connelly, then the traditional model of having an agent and a big publisher is fantastic, and as far as you’re concerned, the only publishing model. In fact, if you want to see how fantastic the traditional model can be, click here for a previous post on how new author Chad Harbach became a superstar.
In The Middle
I, like many other seasoned writers, have had a taste of both traditional and independent publishing, and while I like to think of publishing as being a spectrum that features the Big Six publishers on one end, and the new naïve self-publisher on the other end, and various models in between, I’ve come to see there’s barbed wire and dogs in the middle, creating two distinct camps.
While indie publishers like to think of big publishers as the Titanic, and the recent Book Expo America (BEA) convention as the orchestra playing as the ship sinks, major publishers still control the bulk of book sales.
That doesn’t mean a new and “lowly” writer can’t make a good living outside the traditional model. As I mentioned in my previous piece, Amanda Hocking has made a few million dollars with her self-publishing. Since I wrote last time, so has Darcie Chan with her literary novel, The Mill River Recluse, which was #4 in all book sales last year. (For an interview with her, click here.)
The biggest problem with the traditional model are costs. Bookstores get a 40% discount or more from the cover price, and if they cannot sell the books they’ve bought, they can return them for a refund. Thus, efficient bookstores have software that tells them which books aren’t selling—time to send them back. Sometimes books only get 30 days on a shelf. It’s ruthless. And delivery trucks moved books back and forth.
The biggest publishers have people who visit bookstores and try to get the company’s books in on the most visible shelves, cover out. The giants also have an array of other marketing tools such as publicists, convention specialists, book tour arrangers, graphic designers for ads, marketing gurus, and financial analysts. Small publishers don’t have such resources but the best small publishers still have publicists who are seasoned and clever.
Self-publishers now have a medium that they did not have last century: the eBook. A new eBook requires no printing or distribution costs. This is where, if you go indie, you can make a difference.
My Recent Experience
I ended last year’s article saying I was going to try something new with the three books I was about to debut, my comic novel Love At Absolute Zero, David Scott Milton’s noir mystery Iron City, and E. Van Lowe’s YA paranormal romance Boyfriend From Hell. I brought out the eBook versions first, hoping the word of mouth would build for three months before I brought out the print versions.
The early release of the eBooks really did nothing. It was the publication parties for the print versions of each that pushed things ahead. In fact, a New York music executive happened to go to the Boyfriend From Hell party at Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena, read the book on the plane, and forwarded it to his friend in the TV industry. The series of books has been optioned for a possible TV show by Jamie Kennedy Entertainment. There are a lot of hurdles to leap over first, including the commissioning of a TV pilot. They landed a top screenwriter this week.
Love At Absolute Zero went onto win three “Best” awards and, as I mentioned above, was a finalist in ForeWord Reviews’ Book of the Year Awards. (Read more about that by clicking here.)
Iron City is starting to take off, and I’m not resting. I gave it away at the end of June using KDP Select along with my award-winning novel The Brightest Moon of the Century. Each book gained thousands of new readers. In fact, this is a whole marketing angle worthy of a heading:
Last year, Amazon, always voracious and trying new marketing angles, came up with a new program, KDP Select. If you give Amazon 90 days exclusive use of an ebook title, they will help promote it.
As Amazon explains it, its program “is a new option that features a $6 million annual fund dedicated to independent authors and publishers. If you choose to make a book exclusive to the Kindle Store for at least 90 days, the book is eligible to be included in the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library and you can earn a share of the fund based on how frequently the book is borrowed. In addition, by choosing KDP Select, you will have access to a new set of promotional tools, starting with the option to offer enrolled books free to readers for up to 5 days every 90 days.”
E. Van Lowe and I decided to try it in June with his book Boyfriend From Hell. That book and its sequel Earth Angel, which I brought out in December, have been selling rather well, a combined 300 to 800 per month since January. It’s been selling on Nook four times higher than on Kindle for whatever reason. Nook is an important part of the market.
Nonetheless, we thought we could do better, so I took it off Nook for 90 days (back on in September) and enrolled the book in KDP Select. I made the book free for three days with the idea that if people read that book, they’ll know how great the series is and buy the rest of the series.
Boyfriend From Hell rocketed to the top of many Kindle lists including #1 in Spine-Chilling Horror, #1 in Girls & Women, and even #1 in Children’s Fiction. We gave away 10,285 ebooks. Look at how many new fans Van Lowe might have. We also sold 70 copies of Earth Angel in those three days, and it continues to sell well. Both books remained on Amazon bestseller lists for many weeks.
(Book #3, Heaven Sent, comes out at the end of the year.)
I’m doing it again with Boyfriend From Hell on August 10th and 11th—and with The Middle-Aged Man and the Sea the following week, August 15, 16, and 17, which has never been offered for free before. You can always check out the schedule at White Whisker Books (click here).
One thing I’ve been blessed with is great authors. E. Van Lowe had been with a big publisher, Tor Teen, for his novel Never Slow Dance with a Zombie. It sold over 43,000 copies, but he didn’t make much in royalties, nor did people at Tor give him the time of day. He was frustrated and found me.
While his books haven’t matched Tor’s book in terms of sales yet, he gets a higher royalty and he’s convinced this is the future of publishing. He’s become a Twitter addict (reach him at @EVanLowe), and as he told one person, “Book bloggers are the backbone of the digital age. No more New York Times Best Seller list; now it's people like you.” He’s saying that literary websites and reader reviews on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes and Noble and elsewhere can help a lot.
Running parallel to what we’re doing, the big publishers mostly act as if another way of doing business doesn’t exist. The BEA is still designed for booksellers to meet publishing companies and authors, and all recent book publicity is about the coming big books. I still counsel new writers to try for an agent. The old way can still work well, particularly if you’re not a marketing maven. “Indie” requires a lot of work. It’s a whole other career beyond your writing.
That reminds me. I’m preparing the next White Whisker Book, The Fiction Writer’s Handbook from Shelly Lowenkopf. It’s an in-depth book explaining all the terms and tools that great fiction writers use. To get a taste of it, click here.
You can find me on Twitter at @MeeksChris—or write questions or responses below.
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