Thursday, May 17, 2012

DIY: Creating My Own eBook, Part Three - Lessons Learned

Late last month, after publishing my first eBook ("Gravity's Pull"), I wrote two posts about the process. The first was a general post on what I did and the second was specific to creating the cover art.

I promised a third post, discussing things I had learned and what I might decide to differently in future eBook publications. With a few weeks having passed, now felt like a good time to do that. I'll caveat all of this that I'm going off a single "experiment" here and that I'm generalizing from it. If you've experienced something dramatically different from what I've described, I'd be very interested to hear about it.

The first thing I've learned is that my supposition about what sales would be like was correct. In my first post, I said: "I wouldn't be surprised to see a couple more sales trickle in through these channels over the next couple of weeks, but unless I put more effort into getting eyeballs to the eBook it's probably going to have very, very few sales from month to month."
So far, that's been spot on. I got a handful of sales right away when I announced the launch of the book and another small handful (including one borrow from the Kindle Lending Library) several days later when the first blog post went up and someone who I know only casually through Twitter tweeted about the story. (I have no idea which, if either, of those drive that handful of sales.)

Since that second little burst, though, there've been only a pair of isolated sales. That includes the release of the blog post on the cover art and a couple of passing tweets mentioning the eBook. I'm not disappointed by this -- it's exactly what I expected. But it's still good information to have. I'd consider there to be three lessons learned here:
  1. Simply throwing an eBook out to the wild, especially one with a title which provides no ready "hook" for a reader, is going to net very few sales.
  2. The percentage of people who follow you/subscribe to your blog/etc. who buy what you're selling is going to be very small for a random (non-targeted) eBook such as this one. This may not be quite as true if you're selling something specifically aimed towards a particular market. If I was, for example, blogging and tweeting about hockey regularly and had a following of hockey enthusiasts, I think there'd be a fair chance of a slightly higher sales rate. Even then, I would expect it to be in the single-digits percentage-wise.
  3. Secondary promotion (at least without some new news, like a price break or something of that nature) seemed to have little/no impact. So, in my opinion, those people who are out there tweeting "Buy My Book" every hour or every day aren't "just" irritating people, they're doing it needlessly. (Admittedly, you would think that they would stop doing it if it was getting no results. But it's not something I'd feel comfortable doing.)
Here are some other things I think I'll do a bit differently for future releases:
  1. Get a second set of eyes on the cover design before release. Someone I know locally is a professor who deals with graphic design regularly. He had a suggestion on tightening up the cover design a bit which I would have preferred to be able to do before the release. I've already followed this advice (both his specific advice and showing him and a few other people a mockup) for a cover I've designed for a work in progress which I'm intending to have be an eBook release this summer.
  2. For something that I want to heavily promote, put in the time to research rollout promotion websites, etc. For a 99 cent stand-alone short story, there doesn't seem to be much point to that. But for something I was releasing at $2.99 and/or as part of a series, I could see the effort being worthwhile.
  3. I want to research Smashwords and other platforms as well though at this point I'm inclined to wait to do that until I'm sure that releasing new eBooks regularly is something that I'll plan on doing into 2013. For now, I'm happy with the (relatively) easy process of putting an eBook up on Amazon.
Other things may occur to me over time, but those are the ones which are foremost in my mind right now.

As a related aside, there's a growing chance that I won't release a May eBook. There are a variety of reasons for this, but it all boils down to wanting to release the right product at the right time. I'm OK with "Gravity's Pull" being one to learn from even if it ends up not coming even close to the target where I'd be content with its sales numbers. Whatever I release next, I want it to be something that I feel is worth putting some marketing effort into and (probably) have it be something which can justify the $2.99 price point.


  1. Very interesting update, Michael! Thanks for keeping us posted along the way.

    1. You're quite welcome. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Thanks for sharing about your process. I don't know if I mentioned this before, but my understanding, via Dean Wesley Smith and others, is that successful ebook publishing is all about the accumulation of items you have for sale, and it's important to think longterm. You'll sell many more books when you have ten items up than when you have one lone item up. Lindsey Buroker wrote a good post about her experiences in self-publishing. I found it helpful:
    Are More Authors Than You Think Making a Living Self-Publishing?

    1. Hi, Elizabeth. Thanks for the link!

      Yes, that's the same understanding I have. What I'm hoping to see throughout the year is a bit of momentum gathering where adding more titles to my "shelf" leads to cross-sales. I'm also seriously considering working on a series of novellas. In fact, that was one of the things that caught my eye in a 30-second skim of the Buroker article you linked. It looks like a really good article and I want to sit down and read it when I get a few extra minutes!

      Thanks again for stopping by!

  3. Your experiences pretty much mirrors mine, Michael. I'm hoping to self-pub more stuff over the second half of this year, but will be aiming for novellas and novels. Not because i dislike commercial publishing, but because self-pubbing works better for me at the minute.

    I'd recommend Smashwords just for their distribution channels. Lulu has a electronic publishing option, too, though i haven't tried them. My theory right now (subject to change, of course) is that the more places the books are the better chance they have.

    1. Thanks for the suggestions! I take it you're already using Smashwords? The perception I've gotten is that there's a steeper learning curve there and that it takes more time to get your book uploaded through them. Has that been your experience?

    2. Basic publishing to Smashwords take about the same amount of time as publishing to Amazon does. Where they fall down is approving works for the premium catalogue (which you need to distribute through most of their channels). This can take weeks (and if you make a mistake you need to resubmit to the premium catalogue again for another similar length wait time), and then it can take weeks on top of that for the channels to pick those works up.

      Unfortunately, because i live outside of the US, i can't upload to B&N directly (thus this is one of the primary reasons i use Smashwords). But if you can, i'd recommend that route, too.

      And yes, the overall learning curve is steeper. Their conversion engine is very specific, and failure to follow it can mean all sorts of messed up looking text. However, the basic premise behind the engine (using paragraph styles rather than just changing fonts and sizes here and there) is useful, so i reckon it's worth the hassle to learn the process.

    3. Thanks for the additional insights. I'll give that some thought. I've used paragraph styles before (or at least something like what I think you mean) a long time ago, so I suspect I might be able to pick it back up without too much difficulty.