Posts Tagged ‘indie publishing’

Stepping stonesI first published Darklands as an eBook at the end of August 2011 (followed by a paperback in April 2012). I had always intended to do a round up of my first year in self publishing – the highs, the lows, the financial realities – but somehow, never found the time. So this is more like my first 14 months in publishing. I hope it might be useful or of interest to other writers looking at self publishing and wondering what to expect.

On the whole, I’d say I am pretty happy with how things have gone. But I would also say that I have severely readjusted my expectations from the beginning of the year. Reader feedback has been excellent, but sales have nevertheless been … s-l-o-w.

I have been extremely conservative about outlaying any money for services – possibly even too conservative (you have to speculate to accumulate, right?) This is mostly due to my paranonia about being fleeced by cynical snake oil merchants looking to milk the hopeful-writer cash cow…

I had no costs associated with the actual book production. My sister proof-read; my partner did the cover design; I did all the formatting and layout. Nor were there any production costs for publishing the paperback, or for the ISBN (though there are costs now that I want to edit the paperback. More on that below).

Even so, income has not exceeded outgoings, and I find I am out of pocket at the end of this first year.

The highs

Darklands has received seven reviews on Amazon.co.uk, all five star; four ratings on Goodreads, average 4.5 stars. I have visited a secondary school to talk to the students about writing and self publishing. I have done three radio interviews on different local stations. I’ve done four interviews for book sites, and have a guest post coming up in December for the Speculative Salon. And last weekend I encountered my first fan! An unknown (and it must be admitted, rather drunk) bloke accosted me in the pub to tell me how much he had enjoyed Darklands (which he had read to his daughters). Awesome.

The lows, the reality checks and the nitty gritty

I’ve sent out review requests to over 20 book bloggers (all hand picked as likely candidates, and sent personal messages). Seven of those I contacted back in 2011 replied sounding positive, but only two actually reviewed Darklands (Thanks, Bookstack and Hey Tara!) Of the 13 I’ve contacted this year NONE have responded except by automated reply. I wonder at this difference. Are book bloggers just becoming so saturated by review requests that they don’t have the time/inclination to respond? Are my emails getting caught in spam folders (and is it possible my surname helps with that?!)?

I’ve sent out info packs to four local libraries. None have responded to me; and I can guess from checking the County library catalogue that none have ordered Darklands. I’ve written to my old school. As yet I’ve had no written response, but I did bump into the librarian a couple of weeks back, who expressed great interest, and promised to get back to me. I’ve written to my two local branchs of Waterstones, but again had no response. Maybe I’d have better luck in person – or at least, someone who’s a better salesperson than me might…

Over this first year I have sold a little over one hundred books – about two thirds eBooks to one third paperbacks (I don’t have a definite figure, because paperbacks I’ve sold through Amazon or other wholesalers don’t appear in any figures I have access to … until they do – which happens twice a year, and hasn’t yet! That said, I can hazard a guess at how many paperbacks Amazon has sold just from keeping an eye on the sales rank). My royalties vary between £1 and £3.

I’ve so far paid £470 in book related expenses. I’ve received back £270. I am currently owed £40, $17 and €4 by retailers (I’m not sure I will ever see the dollars or euros, due to the threshholds it is necessary to accrue before Amazon will make payments).

So what costs did I encounter, given that I’ve been so parsimonious?

In initial publishing excitement I spent £20 on Facebook ads the day the eBook came out (A complete waste of money. It didn’t even have any reviews yet. No one bought it except people I know). I bought 40 paperbacks, most of which I’ve sold (six still pending payment). I paid £88 to my publisher, Feedaread, for the distribution package which makes Darklands available to Amazon. I’ve also just paid them £39 for the privilege of producing a new cover (I had been intending to tweak a couple of things inside the book as well – mainly regarding the Kikimora preview at the end. But that would have set me back an additional £39! Eagle-eyed readers will note that the price was £29 when I discussed it a few weeks back. It’s gone up. Sigh) I’ve paid £25 to book a stall at a Christmas market in Derby. I’ve had smaller incidental costs, such as display stands and stamps (I’m not even counting the petrol I use driving to radio interviews, school visits, delivering books to the bookshop, etc). It all adds up.

One hundred books in a year doesn’t sound much, does it? I had certainly expected and hoped to move more than that when I set out on this endeavour. But I underestimated many things about this process – not least how vastly over-saturated the young adult fiction market is, and therefore how competitive; how precise your marketing has to be (clue: mine hasn’t been so far).

One area I’m feeling increasingly uncertain about is whether Darklands really is young adult, or ‘middle grade’ (whatever the hell that is). I originally envisaged it as for 12-14 year olds, but several parents have told me their ten year olds read and enjoyed it. I just read this post on the difference between middle grade and young adult, but I can’t say I feel much wiser. A year ago I hadn’t the slightest notion that it would matter one way or another. I read books for any age group if they appeal to me, and always have. I’m coming to realise that it matters very much. But this subject deserves a whole blog post of its own, so I may return to it in future.

What are the lessons to be learned here?

Firstly, for all my social networking, tweeting, blogging, commenting on other people’s blogs – apparently I’m still rubbish at e-marketing. My best selling day was at Celebrating Cromford, standing at a stall – I’m hoping to replicate that success at the Derby Christmas market.

I’m still hoping to generate some word of mouth. I need to get the book out to more people. Those who read it like it, but most of the world is competely unaware of its existence. A bigger problem seems to be those who do know of its existence, but are indifferent. I think my new cover design (when it finally arrives. FeedaRead have been SO slow and awkward about the alteration) will help with this. The new cover looks slicker, more professional, and more enticing.

I really really need to get more reviews*. I’d also rather like it if they weren’t all five stars! It makes people suspicious – like my mum wrote them all (in fact I forbade my sisters from leaving reviews on Amazon, as I didn’t think it would project too professional an image to have reviews by people with the same surname as me!)

But how to get more reviews? There’s a polite suggestion at the end of the book that a review would be great. But I’m not going to harass my readers to leave reviews if it’s not the kind of thing they do, or they are uncomfortable about it. As discussed above, I’m currently having no luck interesting book bloggers. Maybe I should contact them all again, just to politely enquire if they received my initial email? But if people aren’t interested I don’t want to nag them. Indie authors have a bad enough name already. I don’t want to be annoying.

So how will my publishing adventure develop in 2013? I think the christmas market will be a good indicator of how well I can capture the public imagination. If you can’t sell children’s books the last weekend before christmas there’s probably not much hope! I’m also planning to publish Kikimora at some point in the new year (no, not summer 2012, like it says at the end of Darklands :-S). How will having two titles affect my marketing approach? How much smoother might Kikimora’s publication go, with all the Darklands lessons already under my belt?

In many ways, self publishing Darklands was completely a test; a proof of concept. I have been writing stories my whole life, but I had no idea whether I was actually any good at it, or if it was all just a silly dream. Self publishing has shown me that people enjoy reading my book; that it stands up as a story, that I can construct a proper plot that holds attention and keeps people guessing. I wasn’t sure of any of this 15 months ago – which is one reason I was so loathe to outlay any money up front.

But I suspect I have been thinking like an amateur, acting like an amateur, and selling myself short.

If I want to actually make this writing thing work and make any kind of real impact in the wider world then I suspect money will need to be spent on some kind of marketing and promotion (no, not facebook ads!)

Another area of complete ignorance for me to investigate. Woot.

Stick with me, and we’ll see how this indie publishing adventure pans out 🙂

* A recent post on a popular book blog said the author was happy to read self published books – so long as they had at least 50 reviews on Amazon, and 30 reviews from Goodreads friends!

Darklands goes on sale as a paperback today via Feedaread, priced £7.99.

I decided to purchase the distribution package at £88, so that it will also be available through Amazon and other booksellers (though not for a few weeks… watch this space). Since that fee is payable anually, and I am looking at only £1 profit per Amazon sale, I need my marketing efforts to go into overdrive if I’m to make any money at this.

Discussing marketing tactics with my sister the other day, she pointed out that although Darklands largely takes place in another world, and the parts in this world have made up names, they are nevertheless very recognisably Derbyshire. She suggested playing up the local angle, which I think is good advice. I can think of a few local bookshops and libraries which I’ve frequented over the years who might be interested.

Over the coming weeks I’ll be putting together a publicity package. Some posters would be nice. Wonder how much they cost to produce…? Ian will know (Having a graphic designer for a boyfriend has come in extremely handy throughout this publishing venture. I highly recommend it).

My sisters and I grew up in Cromford, which is home to the very wonderful Scarthin Bookshop. That place took a lot of my pocket money and weekend job wages when I was growing up. My mum still lives in Cromford and we all visit regularly. Thanks to facebook I have recently reconnected with a lot of old acquaintances from school days. I am sure a few of them would be interested in seeing what I’ve finally come up with (25 years after telling them I wanted to be an author), so I have hopes of making a few sales there.

I am wondering whether I have the temerity to ask them about doing a book launch at the shop? What does a book launch even involve? Who knows? The only ones I’m aware of are those by Emilly Ladybird, which seem intimidatingly fabulous. All I know for certain is that they involve pimms and cake. Lots of cake.

While chatting with my sister (who is an English teacher) we also concocted a plan for her end of term activities week. She wanted to do something involving writing. I told her how easy it is to produce your own paperback – and we both realised it would make a great project to do at school: some short story writing, the nuts and bolts of self publishing, and a quality paperback to take home at the end of it. Pretty cool, huh? She’s trying to persuade me that if the plan goes ahead, I should come over to the school and give a talk about my experiences with self publishing – which I know would look great on my writing CV, but I have to admit, the prospect fills me with horror.

So there are lots of exciting things on the horizon, and I need to turn the marketing engine up to 11. I’ll keep you apprised of how it all goes.

Darklands by Emma WoodcockMy proof copy of Darklands arrived this morning, courtesty of Feed a Read. It feels very good to have an actual copy of my first novel in my hands.

At first glance it all looks perfect: haven’t misspelt the title; font is a decent, readable size; page numbers work; title pages are on the correct side of the paper… but I’ll need to give it a more thorough check over when the initial excitement has worn off before I okay it – and then it will be available to purchase!

Of course there are things I could criticise: the cover is *very* shiny; and it’s come out of its packaging slightly wobbly, you know how a book goes if it gets a bit damp? But these are minor quibbles. Really, I’m chuffed to bits.

It’s especially nice that you can finally see the figure in the tower properly – it was never very apparent on a computer screen. Though my bf (and cover designer)’s first words were, “ooooh, I should have put more detail on that picture…” I guess he, like me, will always find things to criticise in his own area of expertise.

So seven months after publishing Darklands as an eBook, I’m finally making the move into print.

Months ago, I investigated CreateSpace, went most of the way through the set up process before realising that it was US based and likely to incur ridiculous shipping costs for my UK customers (or, as I call them, my customers. I think I sold one book in the US, once…) There were also brain-bending complications involving ISBNs, distribution packages, US tax wierdness…. I tore some hair out, and gave it up.

Next I looked into Lulu. They seemed to have UK distribution, but I was still unsure about the same ISBN and distribution issues. I didn’t want to relinquish control of any rights to my work, and struggled to fathom the rights blurb if I accepted a free ISBN from Lulu/CreateSpace. I could purchase my own from the ISBN regulatory thing, ten at a time, for £120 or so. Then I could spend another £70 on the distribution package to get the book onto Amazon, where I could hope to make no profit since the production cost alone was around £6, and Amazon demands a 100% markup! (Hmm, yes, I expect a self-published paperback by an unknown author will sell very well at £12!)

I don’t want to be one of those poor deluded writers, throwing money at an ambition that is clearly never going anywhere. But… if you are serious about becoming successful, you do need to invest both time and money. I guess it’s really a matter of trying to be realistic. Give it a proper go, then if nothing comes of it, know when to bow out with dignity intact?

So, people kept asking me about a paperback, and I kept saying, ‘Soon, soon…’ and doing nothing about it. However, as discussed in a previous post, I decided I was finally ready to give it another go. Part of the new determination came from thinking about money. Specifically, how £200 or so pales into insignifcance when you consider my loss of earnings due to working only part time so that I can write for the past three years. At a very rough estimate, £20-30,000? Ouch!

So I’ve had another look into it, found some useful discussions of the pros and cons of both CreateSpace and Lulu, and finally stumbled on the UK based FeedARead, which is supported by the Arts Council of England. I expect it has all the same issues regarding ISBNs, rights and distribution packages, but at least it’s UK based.

I’ve set the wheels in motion, but like all the other packages out there, this one seems very loathe to actually give you any pricing information until you’ve gone through the whole setup process. Since my word file is currently awaiting conversion to PDF (I would normally do that kind of thing myself, but don’t have the full Acrobat program and was uncertain about embedding my fonts, so it seemed safest to let them handle it), I can discover absolutely no indication of what production costs will be :-/ I don’t like this, but unless it’s truly outrageous, I think I’m just going to go with it.

I’ll keep you posted how it all works out 🙂

When I was 15 years old I dreamed of writing Tolkienesque epic fantasy. I felt strongly that I should control every aspect of my books (I remember being horrified when I first learned that authors had no control over their own book covers!) I had cosy, naive ideas about producing every aspect of the books myself. I would choose a good font, paint a picture for the cover, sign my name on the spine… It would be brilliant.

Fast forward 20 years, and here I am writing non-Tolkienesque, non-epic fantasy, designing not just the book covers myself*, but also handling the proof-reading, marketing, distribution and public relations. It’s exhausting. I would love to have an agent, publisher, editor, marketing team – but that’s not the way it’s panned out.

I am one of the unwashed masses, spurned by the publishing establishment, but not taking no for an answer; thumbing our noses and going it alone. It sounds so exciting! An adventure. Discovering new and uncharted lands, filled with wonders; hoping to discover the rumoured gold in them thar hills.

The reality is… sobering. It didn’t take me long to understand why agents spare only the barest and briefest of glances at the painstakingly prepared submissions on their slush piles. There is a vast ocean of writing out there! Much of it bad, it has to be said. But some of it very good. My own submissions were typically returned with comments along the lines of ‘Really liked your book, but don’t think I can sell it. Byee!’

So here I am, one tiny plankton adrift in the ocean of indie writing, wondering why the fisherman (that’s you, the reading public. Yes, this metaphor has become quite tortuous. I apologise) doesn’t notice me, but has eyes only for the angel fish, seahorses, and dolphins…

And I think back to my 15 year old self and shake a fist. I got what I wanted. Complete control. *sigh*

* Actually I outsourced the cover art to www.uncutid.com (who happens to be my boyfriend, so it was free :-D), but I still had to organise it!