Have You Ever Read a Self-Published Book?

Okay, that’s a trick subject, because this isn’t going to be a poll or a question. It’s going to be a statement of fact. I am willing to bet that everyone reading this post has either read or is extremely familiar with the story I am going to name below. I would further be willing to bet a large sum that it is this author’s best-known, most-beloved work.

But before I give you the name of the story, why does it matter? Because every time a website reviews a self-published book unfavorably, it seems there are a host of commenters who find it necessary to pop in and say, “This is why I’ll never read a self-published book. They’re all garbage!” Now, hardly ANYONE pops in with such a statement when a NY-published book gets a poor review. I’ve never seen a commenter say, “This is why I never read books from the Big 6. They’re all garbage!”

I get pretty tired of this attitude. It’s not that I don’t agree that there are a lot of bad self-published books. It’s not that I don’t think the error rate, so to speak, is higher in self-published books than in those put out by major publishing houses. It’s the nature of the beast. BUT…to tar all self-published books with the “garbage” brush because many (or even most) self-published books are bad is throwing the baby out with the bathwater. There are some self-published gems out there, and there always have been. The only difference between the self-publishing of today and yesteryear was that it’s now so much more affordable that almost anyone can do it. Used to be, you had to plunk down a lot of money to make a self-published book happen, which naturally limited the number of them.

Okay, so here is where I pause and add dramatic space before revealing my punchline…

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Drum Roll

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…and the self-published book I’m betting you’ve either read or know very well is…

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

#SixSunday from The Lesson Plan

Today’s six sentences come from The Lesson Plan. Enjoy!


She squeaked with surprise as he all but threw her to the ground and then rolled her through the twigs and sticks that littered the forest floor into a small depression a few feet away.

They came to rest there, her on top, in the most intimate of embraces. He might as well have been naked, for she could feel every sinewy muscle of his body in this position. The sensation made her squirm, and she lifted her head to look down at him, wondering if he was as affected as she.

His hand closed around the back of her head to prevent her from raising it further. “For the love of God, keep your head down and stop wriggling about.”

#STOPSOPA

A lot of websites have gone “dark” today to protest SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act). SOPA is not currently law, but it is pending legislation in the House. A competing but similar vision, PIPA (Protect IP Act) is pending in the Senate. Now, I can’t honestly say I completely understand what is in either piece of legislation or what the actual effect would be if either became law. What I can say is that I’m opposed to anything that allows websites to be blocked based on suspicion of wrongdoing rather than actual proof thereof, And it’s pretty clear from what I’ve read that SOPA and PIPA would both do that. (This seems like a pretty evenhanded article if you want to know more: SOPA vs. POPA: Anti-piracy bills uproar explained.)

Apparently, the interests that really want some form of these bills passed are those in the film and music industry. They feel piracy is killing them. Authors seem to be more split on the subject, which I find interesting. You would think that authors would see things the same way moviemakers and musicians do (although I’m sure there are filmmakers and recording artists who are opposed to SOPA/PIPA; no group is ever without its dissenters).

Rather than go dark today in protest, I thought I’d post instead the a list of all the reasons I see SOPA/PIPA as harmful to my interests as an author rather than helpful. So, here goes:

1) Invisibility/lack of discoverability hurts my sales more than piracy.

Um, guess what? That’s it. There are plenty of other reasons to object to SOPA/PIPA, including due process issues and the like, but as a person who is trying to make a living selling books, that’s the one that matters. I don’t need Congress to protect my business model from piracy because, as far as I can tell, piracy is at worst a wash and at best a net gain when it comes to my sales.

A Year in Self-Publishing

Tomorrow marks the one-year anniversary of my entry into the world of self-publishing. I began this journey as an experiment, with low expectations and merely the hope of recouping my own costs. 365 days later, I’m pretty well sold on self-publishing as a good business decision for me, although 2012 will truly be the make or break year for me.

Since I’ve always been pretty open about sales figures and money, though, I thought it was time for a recap, complete with graphs and charts (because yes, I’m a geek) and (gasp!) actual dollar figures.

So, without further ado, here’s a chart of total sales of each book:


A little explanation–the chart runs 1-13 because it covers January 18, 2011 to January 17, 2012. Paying sales of The Reiver came to a virtual standstill when it went free on Amazon US in November. It’s still picking up paying sales from Amazon in other countries (although it is free in Spain and Italy, it is still not free in the UK, Germany, or France–don’t ask!)  as well as a few a day from B&N, where people don’t always seem to notice that there’s a free alternative to the 99-cent one. (I didn’t take the 99-cent one off B&N because that would have taken down the free one at the same time; again, don’t ask!) Obviously, Carnally Ever After and The Lesson Plan have no sales figures prior to the dates on which they were released (in September 2011 and December 2011 respectively). None of these number are quite final yet, since January sales figures aren’t in for any of the retailers I distribute to through Smashwords, but they’re not off by much.

So, what’s the deal with that big spike in sales of The Reiver over the summer? Honestly, I haven’t a clue. I’ve yet to figure out why that story took off the way it did and I’m nowhere close to repeating that kind of success–although The Lesson Plan‘s sales have picked up dramatically over the weekend, so it maybe it’ll take off…but who knows?

Next, let’s do sales by retail outlet, because I know you’re curious about that, too:

Obviously, Amazon US blows all the other retailers out of the water, but if we subtract those two summer months when The Reiver sold like gangbusters, I sell about 5 copies at Amazon for every 1 at B&N and about 10 for every one at All Romance eBooks. Most of my Apple sales have been in the past three months, so it’s difficult to say how the iBookstore will compare to the other retailers going forward, since before then, I sold almost nothing at Amazon (although The Reiver has been free there for quite some time and was–and may still be–in the top 10 list for free historical romance).

Okay, now what you really wanted to know–the money!


Things to notice here–The Lesson Plan has earned almost $1,000 in sales, but it cost me almost $800 to publish it (including my advertising budget). Because The Reiver and Carnally Ever After were rereleases of previously edited/published stories, the only thing I had to pay for was the cover art. I didn’t purchase any ad space for them, either. I also decided not to invest in my own ISBN numbers for rereleases, only for originals, so I didn’t have that expense with either of the first two books. Technically, the ISBN number cost me $250 up front, but since I get a block of 10, only the one used for The Lesson Plan is actually counted in its expenses.

So, how does this compare to what I’ve earned from the books I sold to “major” publishers–those being Kensington and Harlequin? Well, Kensington paid me a $2,500 advance for Behind the Red Door. Since then, I’ve received three additional royalty payments of roughly $800 (I’m guessing, so don’t hold me to that figure), for a grand total of $3,300. And that is over the course of three years (from signing the contract in 2008 through to the end of the last reporting period, which was June 2011). Harlequin paid me $800 each for Grace Under Fire and Taking Liberties. I’ve only received one statement from them so far, and although Grace had sold about 1,500 copies in the first two months it was in release, that was not enough for me to earn out my advance. Both of those advances were paid in 2010.

Long story short, I’ve made more money in one year from my self-published books than from everything I’ve ever sold to major publishing houses since 2008. Even if I were to add in what I’ve earned from my epublished books, my earnings from August 2007 through today would be no better than equal to what I earned in my 2011 from my self-published releases.

Please note that I’m not trying to make any claims here as to the outcomes for the self-publishing for anyone but me. Moreover, my results are fairly modest. Setting aside those huge summer months, my earnings wouldn’t be nearly so impressive. In those two months, I earned about two-fifths of what I made for the whole year. Without that bubble, I’d be closer to my total payout from Behind the Red Door. That would probably still be enough for me to feel I’d been fairly successful at self-publishing and to continue to pursue it, but it might not be the results other authors are looking to achieve. At the same time, I’ve managed these modest results with relatively little expense or promotional effort, and I was hardly a household name before I began and am not all that much closer to being one now.

The number that has really convinced me to keep going, though, is this one:

Total copies sold: 11,907
Total free copies: 25,000+

My main goal isn’t to maximize profit (except to the extent that making enough money from my books might someday allow me to quit my day job so I could write even more of them), but to get to readers. And for the first time, I really feel I’m achieving that latter goal.

 

A Snippet from INCARNATE #sixsunday

I’ve been working on Incarnate this week, trying to get through the first act (my books generally lay out in thirds, like a play). In honor of Six Sentence Sunday, here’s a snippet from Chapter Four:

As though sensing its impending doom, the chicken emitted a plaintive squawk from its small wire cage as Elodie passed through the old Victoria Park Cemetery gate and into Meath Gardens.

“I don’t like this any better than you do,” she muttered. Once every six to eight days for fifty two years, and she still hadn’t got used to this part of being an incarnate ghost.

The clock must be nearing half-nine now, as the sky had passed from golden pink to inky purple. Soon, the last few visitors would straggle out of Meath Gardens and into the night. Although the grounds had not been an active cemetery for a very long time, most people were superstitious enough not to hang round the place after dark and those who did were generally insensate enough with drink or opium or both not to notice a plain, petite woman in black pouring the blood of a freshly butchered chicken into the ground over one of the gravesites.

Also, in case you missed it, the entire first chapter is now here.

Reality TV and Me

When the reality TV craze began with shows like Survivor and American Idol, et al., I barely noticed. I just wasn’t interested. If I wanted to watch a competition, I was more than happy to stick to sports–football and baseball specifically (I’ve never cared for basketball or hockey) with a binge every two years on the Olympics.

That, however, was before we discovered Food Network. It started, innocently enough, with a friend of ours pointing out that her son (also a foodie like my youngest) really liked a show called Iron Chef America. We watched a couple of episodes and, although we enjoyed its campy silliness, we weren’t exactly hooked. But then we happened to see another Food Network program called Worst Cooks in America and, OMG, from there, the obsession snowballed to include Chopped, Next Food Network Star, and Next Iron Chef. God help me, the HOURS I have spent watching cooking competitions and salivating helplessly is just immense.

The thing about reality TV I’m discovering, however, is that you can get sucked in even when you are avowedly, absolutely, 100% NOT INTERESTED in whatever the subject of the program is. My latest obsession of this variety is a show on Discovery called Gold Rush. As you might guess even if you haven’t seen it, it’s about gold mining. It’s set in Alaska and features some of the most relentless and wanton destruction of nature I’ve ever witnessed. They dig up literally thousands of pounds of dirt for a few ounces of gold. It’s kind of insane.

But…I can’t look away. Partly, it’s because I’m absolutely charmed and impressed by one of the miners the show is a following, a 17yo kid who’s operating his 91yo grandfather’s mine and desperately trying to save the claim. This young man is just so bright and mature while at the same time exhibiting all the impatience and moodiness you expect of a teenager. Somewhat amusingly, most of the adult miners are just as impatient and moody as the kid, but without the excuse of youth.

So, what about you? Do you watch much reality TV? If you do, what show or shows hooked you in? Are there any that you know you shouldn’t like but like anyway?

Quality and the Self-Publishing Author

If you’ve missed the recent spate of self-published (as well as a few traditionally published YA) authors imploding over negative reviews, consider yourself lucky and don’t bother trying to find out who went postal where. It’s just like every previous author-reviewer drama in memory and you won’t learn anything new, only that even those who know history seem doomed to repeat it. The only reason I mention them at all is that the latest round of this behavior resurrected the idea for this post, which I’ve been thinking about for a while.

Ever since I decided to start self-publishing original work (as opposed to re-releasing previously published titles), I’ve been feeling a vague sort of discomfort. Despite all the things I love about self-publishing—control over cover art, content, and release dates, instant access to sales figures, and no need to wait for a publisher to decide whether to publish my work or not—there’s one concern I can’t shake, and that is that no one other than me necessarily thinks the book is “good enough” to publish.

When a publisher offers a contract for a book, it’s a kind of endorsement; it says, “We are willing to make a financial investment in this manuscript because we think it’s worthy of publication.” How much that “endorsement” is worth certainly depends on the publisher—the more selective the publisher and the better that publisher’s end products are, the more it means. It also means more if there’s an advance involved and how much the advance is; the more money the publisher is willing to put at risk, the more confidence the author can have that the product is worthy.

But when I’m the only one taking any financial risk in the production and distribution of the book, how can I be confident that any book I publish myself is truly ready for prime-time? Even if my beta readers and editor tell me they loved it, maybe they’re just humoring me. I would hope not, but they aren’t fronting the money to publish the book, so they don’t have anything to lose by avoiding conflict and telling me what they think I want to hear. This leads to the inevitable fear: “What if this book actually SUCKS?”

Or, at least, it does for me because I am massively neurotic and insecure. That was the case even when my books had publishers behind them. Now that the publisher is me, I am just that much more neurotic and insecure. This isn’t to say I don’t stand 100% behind or believe in the quality of The Lesson Plan, which is the first book I’ve self-published that wasn’t already released by another publisher. I think it’s as good as or better than anything I’ve ever written and published before (which, depending on how you feel about my other books, may not be saying much). But that doesn’t mean I don’t toss and turn just a little more, because I feel my reputation is even more on the line than ever–I’m not just the author, I’m the publisher, which means I’m responsible for everything. And being responsible for everything means there are more things I can possibly screw up.

Okay, so I did have a point here vis-a-vis the apparent tendency for self-published authors to melt down in the face of bad reviews at a higher rate than those who are not self-published. To wit, I believe self-published authors think they have more to prove (and realistically, they do) and are more deeply stung by criticism because they already have a greater degree of insecurity/fear of failure.

This doesn’t justify lashing out at reviewers, of course, or trying to convince readers who didn’t like your book that they are wrong. Nothing justifies that. An author’s books are not their babies/children–and anyway, since when was no one allowed to give your child a low grade in school if he performed poorly?–nor is the “effort” of writing and publishing a book in any way an achievement that warrants universal praise and reward.

We all have to suck it up once we put a book out there and let the work speak for itself. But self-publishing authors have to suck it up just a little more, and that’s just the way it is.

The New (Slightly Less Social) Me

If you’ve known me for a while, then you know I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions. I figure anything that’s good enough to resolve to do in a new year is good enough to resolve to do before that year gets here. But in this case, I’m making a slight exception. And this isn’t so much a resolution as it is a necessity now that the holidays are officially over.

With the release of THE LESSON PLAN, I resolved–irony intended–to take a brief vacation from writing until after the new year, and it’s a good thing I did because we had some unexpected company last week that would’ve really thrown me off my game if I hadn’t already expected to have the time off. But starting tomorrow, my vacation is over.

So, the deal is, I have a full writing schedule ahead of me this year. I’m planning to release the next Lords of Lancashire novella in late April or early May. Wrong Side of the Grave and Incarnate should follow over the summer/early fall, with the final LoL (I love that acronym!) novella out by December. I also have a contemporary category romance that’s about 2/3rds finished that I’d like to complete and submit to Harlequin by March or April, and a few other side projects to wrap up.

This is far more ambitious than anything I’ve ever accomplished in the past. I think the year I wrote the most, I only completed four novellas/short stories. (And it’s probably no coincidence that this was before Twitter was even invented, lol.) This means there’s a real chance I’m going to muff it and not finish everything I’ve promised, but I also know it’s completely doable if (and this is the big IF) I put my head down and write when I have the time. And by “write”, I mean writing actual words in stories, not 140-character witticisms on Twitter or comments on blog posts or even blog posts of my own. This isn’t to say I’ll be completely dark on Twitter or the internet, but I do plan to be a LOT less active than I have in 2011. It’s the only way I can possibly fulfill my goals, especially given my hectic day job/mom job schedule going forward.

Staying off Twitter is not going to be easy for me. I’m pretty much a confirmed addict. But I’m going to try. And if you’re reading this blog and you see me on Twitter as much as ever, please remind me that I’m SUPPOSED to be writing. I’d appreciate the help.

Music Monday: Open Road by Slightly Stoopid

This is a local (read: San Diego area) band I would never have heard of if it hadn’t been for my 14yo son. He introduced me to them and I am HOOKED. I’m not posting lyrics today as I usually do, primarily because I’m already late. Plus, I think the instrumentals are more this band’s strength…which isn’t to say the lyrics suck, because they don’t, but it’s easy to appreciate this piece without them :).

Enjoy and Happy New Year!