Monday, December 23, 2013

Self-publishing in 2013


At the end of 2012, I wrote a series of posts about my six-month experience as a self-published writer. Now it’s time to share what I learned during the past year so prepare yourselves for a long post.

For those who don’t know me, I write English ebooks in the sci fi and fantasy genre – only novellas and short stories for now but there will be a novel soon too. I publish through Amazon (Kindle Direct Publishing) and Smashwords (it also delivers to Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Kobo, Sony, Diesel, and a few others; they recently added Oyster and Scribd to the list too.) My ebooks are DRM-free, and I don’t do KDP Select. I ven’t bothered with printed books based on the consideration that novellas don’t sell that well.

Last year, I published two titles: Human Instincts (an apocalyptic novella), and Blue Moon Café Series: Where Shifters Meet for Drinks (a paranormal short story collection). This year, the focus was on publishing the entire The Impaler Legacy series:
- The Impaler’s Revenge (The Impaler Legacy #1) in April – novella
- Sweet Surrender (The Impaler Legacy #1.5) in April – short story
- A Victory that Counts (The Impaler Legacy #2) in August – novella
- Casualties of War (The Impaler Legacy #2.5) in August – short story
- Order Restored (The Impaler Legacy #3) in December – novella


The biggest part of The Impaler’s Revenge was written in December 2012. I continued writing the rest of the series in the spring of 2013 with a few breaks in between a couple of short stories written for magazines and various anthologies. At the end of June, I had the final draft of Order Restored done.

The editing went well and felt less rushed. I tried both sending bigger and smaller chunks of text to the editors, and the total amount of time seemed to be about the same. I lost some editors on the way, and while some were already starting to work on Order Restored, a few were still stuck on The Impaler’s Revenge. What I learned is that after the editing is done and before publishing, it’s still worth going through the entire manuscript once just in case.


Initially, The Impaler’s Revenge was planned for March, but I had to postpone it because my traditionally published Romanian short story collection Efectul de nautil came out and I didn’t think I could handle two book releases in the same month. Then I had to move the release of A Victory that Counts towards the end of August because of my vacation. After the experience with the Blue Moon Café Series from last December, instead of releasing Order Restored closer to Christmas, I did it in the beginning of the month. Everything worked all right in the end, but this is why I don’t advertise an exact release date months in advance.

One issue I hadn’t expected was that, unlike Goodreads, Amazon and Smashwords only accept integer numbers for the book order in the series. This kind of diverted my plans so I decided to host the short stories on my website since I wanted them to be free anyway. This caused another problem as it turned out several readers didn’t know where to find them. I usually go to the author’s website if I need information about the books, but apparently not everyone thinks like me. In the end, I had both Sweet Surrender and Casualties of War published on Amazon and Smashwords without a number in October.

This gave me the opportunity to figure out how free titles work on Amazon. First, there’s no option to make an ebook free. You need to have lower price reported by several customers and then wait for Amazon to catch up and match the price. I did that for Sweet Surrender. It shot up into Top 100 in the vampires category for free ebooks and stayed there for a while. I promoted the heck out of it on Twitter, Facebook, and any site for free books I could find, and the result was 500 downloads in a month which I find an okay number since it’s a short story and not the first in the series. After that I was busy with the release of Order Restored and did no promotion at all for Sweet Surrender, and it still got 100 downloads in three weeks. Granted, most of them are compulsive buys and will probably never be read, but I did notice a spike in The Impaler Legacy series sales while Sweet Surrender was in Top 100 so it’s something worth remembering in the future.


I came to the conclusion that reviews help sales best. After The Impaler’s Revenge came out, the readers’ opinions were split. I knew it would be a tough sale because the market was already saturated with vampire stories, but I was counting on the unique take on the vampire myth. It turned out I was wrong on both accounts. When they hear about vampires, it seems people expect either YA or erotica, and then they’re disappointed when they discover my books are neither.

A book blogger described the first book in the series as “a political thriller with vampires”, and I think the description fits it perfectly. The second book focuses on action, while the third one is more character centric instead of going global like most second sequels tend to do.

Another popular complaint I got was that the books are too short. Well, they’re novellas and clearly labeled as such in the book description so those readers haven’t bothered reading it or forgot all about it by the time they started reading the book. Besides, there’s just as much information you can cram in a 35k book.

Two good things came out of this. No less than 4 star reviews came from readers who actually bought the books, which means all of the 3 star reviews were written by people I have personally contacted and offered them a free copy in exchange of a honest review. It stands to reason that those people wouldn’t have bought them in the first place, but it’s hard to say no to a free book. The less than stellar reviews helped trim down readers, helping them decide whether the books are for them or not, so after a while only 4 and 5 star reviews showed up.

In order to get some of those most needed reviews, I contacted people who had already reviewed some of my books, but many other book bloggers too. I offered the first book in the series, and if the review were favorable, I would offer the next book too. Several Goodreads groups were very helpful with this. I also tried to offer them on Tomson, but I was less pleased with the quality of the reviews received. After each release, I did a giveaway on LibraryThing. It’s hard to say how many of the winners read the book, but at least it got the word out.

For Order Restored, I ran a giveaway on 20 book blogs for a week and received over 1200 entries. I wasn’t expecting such a high number, especially since it was the third book in the series, and I regretted I hadn’t offered more copies. The amount of time put into organizing the giveaway was almost as high as for a blog tour, I reckon, so I’ll think twice before doing it again.

What else helps selling books? I have no data showing that Twitter ads do. In fact, I think they don’t. Spamming Facebook groups works best for free ebooks and only moderately so for $0.99 priced ebooks. Facebook fan pages are a bust since most posta don’t reach over 200 people, and if they include links they’re barely seen by a handful. I’m almost tempted to start friending people with my personal profile, but I’d rather not bore my friends and family with book related posts.

I haven’t tried any paid advertisement. I wouldn’t know where to start, and the books aren’t making enough money to afford that. And, honestly, I’d rather write instead. At the end of the day/year, when I did the math, it turned out that my best seller is Blue Moon Café Series and I did no promotion for it at all. Shrug.

January, August, and November had the most sales. Amazon is leading the pack, followed in the distance by Barnes & Noble, Apple, and Smashwords, with Sony and Kobo far behind.

Aside from publishing and obviously writing, I’m also offering ebookformatting services for indie writers and started a book blog where I plan to spotlight indie books.

So now the entire The Impaler Legacy series is out, and I’m working on the Broken People series.

That’s about all for this year, let’s see what the next year will bring!

No comments: