Year Two

by wjw on August 15, 2013

It’s been a little over two years since I started publishing my backlist in ebook format, so I thought I’d update you all on how the indie-pub revolution has been going from my perspective.  (For the first year of this experiment, see this article which I wrote about it.)

Firstly, almost all the novels are now available, the one exception being The Rift, which I’m hoping will be up some time in September.  (There’s something about a 280,000-word novel that requires a lot of attention.)

Ebook sales rose steadily through December of 2012, but have declined since the first of the year, and (as of July) settled in at about two-thirds of the December high.  There are probably reasons for that.  First, I haven’t uploaded a lot of  new content since the first of the year.  Also, much of what I’ve uploaded in the last year have been the Privateer books, and people don’t go to to find historical novels.

I have 22 items available, featuring a couple novelettes, a couple short novels, one French translation, with everything else being novels in English.

Hardwired remains my best seller, outselling all others by a considerable margin.  Voice of the Whirlwind, Angel Station, and Aristoi form a reliable second tier.  Knight Moves, Ambassador of Progress, Days of Atonement, and the Maijstral books are in the bottom rank.   Every list has its losers, and these are mine.

There’s a grouping between the second tier and the bottom that forms an interesting mix.  Metropolitan and City on Fire sit there, but right alongside them are the Privateers & Gentlemen books, which means that my old historical novels have in fact found a reliable, if not exactly vast, audience, an audience generated entirely by word of mouth.  They’re adding to the income stream, and people are enjoying them, and that’s making me happy.

About 80% of the sales are still with Amazon.  Barnes & Noble sales don’t amount to much, but seem substantial compared to  my Kobo sales, which dribble along in a sadly pathetic way.  Smashwords, which is also my gate to Apple and Sony, continues to send money along in a timely and welcome fashion.

(Kobo, by the way, seems to generate far more reviews than sales.  A book that might get a dozen or so reviews on Amazon will get 300 in Kobo.  Kobo’s clients may be few, but they’re an opinionated bunch.)

What with sales being flat or in decline, I decided that action was necessary, and in consultation with New Mexico writer Emily Mah (a walking encyclopedia of all things indiepub), I decided to put Angel Station on sale for $0.99 and advertise it via BookBub.  BookBub maintains listserves of people with various genre interests, and will alert them to the existence of sales.  (You have to put a book on sale to get BookBub to mention it.)

The advantage of BookBub from the reader’s perspective is that they don’t take advertising from every wannabe on the Net, they prefer books that have been published by traditional publishers or which originate from writers with good track records.

My sale began on Sunday, August 4 and ended on Monday, August 12.  Except that it actually got started early: I changed the prices on August 1, thinking that the lower price would take a way to percolate through the electronic universe.  So the big jump on sales actually started on Saturday, with a gratifying number of people downloading the book just because the price went down.  There appears to be quite a market for books at $0.99.

(Unfortunately from the writer’s point of view, at 99 cents the author gets only 35% of the cover price versus 70%, and so can actually make more money selling fewer copies at $4.99 than a great many copies at $0.99.)

But the purpose of the sale wasn’t to make more money, it was to get more readers.  Emily had very cleverly designed new editions of Angel Station that included clickable links to my other works.  So if a reader was happy with Angel Station, all he had to do to get more copies of my books was to click the link right there on the page.

The sale succeeded admirably in selling lots of copies.  I broke 100 on Barnes & Noble and 250 on Amazon, which is pretty damn good for a 25-year-old book.  The biggest sales were within 36 hours of the BookBub newsletter, and then tapered off over the course of the week.  My Kobo sales actually became less than completely negligible!

I more than made enough money to pay for the BookBub ad, with a nice chunk left over.  Even at 35%.

But what about the secondary sales, which after all was the point?  Did people buying Angel Station go on to buy my other works?

Not much, or at any rate not yet.  Sales of the other books declined during the course of the sale as the audience lunged for the cheaper edition.  It’s too early to say whether I’ve generated any brand loyalty among new readers.  No giant leap in sales has been observed.

One sad side effect was that the book went out to people who shouldn’t have read it, and who wouldn’t have picked it up if it were in a store at the regular price.  What had been a five-star-reviewed book at Amazon has now become a 3.1-star book due to brand-new one-star reviews featuring phrases like “worse book I’ve ever read.”  (I’m trying not to think of these people as trolls, though Emily warned me that I’d attract some.)

Anyway, the results were encouraging enough so that I’m likely to do it again, to make sure that I not only grab new readers, but keep them.

Year Three should be interesting.

(And by the way, let me recommend Emily Mah as an ebook designer.  She does a terrific job.)

James August 15, 2013 at 5:45 am

Nice to see that ‘Metropolitan’ and ‘City on Fire’ have an audience, as I regard them as some of your best work. As you have been experimenting with e-books, may I make a pitch to also experiment with Kickstarter for book development? I know there is a lot of effort even to get one of those things off the ground, but at least that would provide you with a level of certainty before you began the actual work… and perhaps you could do it on the sequel to ‘City’ 🙂

TJIC August 15, 2013 at 12:46 pm

Best of luck with all of this; I remember as a naive youth reading fiction from my favorite authors and picturing all of them as leaning back in large easy chairs in their yachts as they produced these amazing stories. I’m sorry to hear that it’s the same middle-class struggle for your guys as it is for the rest of us (or, at least, as it is for the rest of us in Great Depression 2.0).

I bought Angel Station on sale the other day (and loved it), but I’ll make sure to buy future books on non-sale days so that your take is more than a pittance!

TRX August 15, 2013 at 7:25 pm

> Hardwired remains my best seller

And why shouldn’t it be? It and Voice of the Whirlwind are your best works.

Those two are on my short list of books I always snag when I see a used copy; I buy them and pass them on to others. “Here, read this book, it won’t hurt you.”

Sarah Stegall August 15, 2013 at 9:50 pm

” the Maijstral books are in the bottom rank. Every list has its losers, and these are mine.”

They aren’t losers in my list. I love those books. I only bought the electronic versions because the paperbacks had been read to tatters.

As for the sales figures, I think it’s a mistake to put anything longer than an interoffice memo out there for sale at .99. It’s an insult to the work and to yourself. I think you got spooked by sluggish sales into an experiment that was really risky. I can see that you sold a lot of books, and that’s great, but what are you after? High sales numbers? Sure, price the book at .01 and watch the downloads soar. High revenue? Only you can say if it’s worth the time and trouble to list something at .99 over a short term and garner LESS income than if you listed it at 4.99 or whatever over a longer term. High sales numbers by themselves, gained over a short-term, may not outweigh the downside: unfavorable reviews. In the long run, the reviews may mean more, as they drive sales. Thanks for putting the data out there for the rest of us, though. Good luck, Walter.

chris August 16, 2013 at 4:13 pm

I had to put my WJW books in storage so I’d stop re-reading them and read something new, but I’ve been slowly buying them again digitally. For whatever reason I’m a Voice of the Whirlwind > Hardwired guy, although I love both. Sad that Days of Atonement is getting more love.

Michael Mock August 16, 2013 at 7:53 pm

Wait, Knight Moves and Days of Atonement are on the bottom tier of your sales? How is that possible? I really enjoyed Knight Moves, and Days of Atonement was fascinating. (I’d say nice things about Ambassador of Progress, but unfortunately I haven’t read it. I should fix that.)

I know, I know, people are different and tastes vary, but I still think those titles deserve better.

wjw August 17, 2013 at 3:26 am

Sarah, I’m not holding my work cheap. If I did that, every single work would be 99 cents.

What I did was temporarily drop the price of a single work in the hopes of picking up new readers. Sales happen all the time in retail, it’s no big deal.

TJ, when I put a book on sale, I can hardly complain when somebody buys the book at the sale price. Though your resolution is a considerate one, and I appreciate it.

Oz August 17, 2013 at 12:13 pm

Jason has enjoyed reading the historicals. AND, he’s been reading the latest series as well. I downloaded the latest book in May…those, presumably, are still with the publisher. I also downloaded the Maijstral books just as soon as you put them up for sale. The point is that books are now available that otherwise wouldn’t be. And if they bring in anything at all, it’s more than zero. I actually trust a range of ratings, assuming there are many, more than a smattering of five star ratings. I go and read the low ones and weigh them as “reader error” or “sucky writer.” In your case, the former, not the latter. And I sometimes go back and read them after reading the book. I am strange, yes.

DensityDuck August 17, 2013 at 5:32 pm

Do you have epub rights for the short works in “Facets”? You could probably package “Wolf Time” and the other one like it, “Video Star” maybe?, put those together with “Solip:System” and market it as “STORIES FROM THE WORLD OF HARDWIRED“.

It might be that people are seeing Hardwired and the other three good-selling books as part of a series, and that’s why those particular three books are in your top list. People have gotten used to every F/SF book being “book X of Y”, so they probably think that VotW is a direct sequel to Hardwired, and so on. So you could play to that and get some more sales.

wjw August 17, 2013 at 9:55 pm

Good idea! I in fact plan to do something very like this, but I’ve got to get the stories up first.

Harald August 18, 2013 at 2:28 pm

Kobo bookstore reviews are mostly pulled from Goodreads, which is why there are so many compared to the other online stores.

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