Thursday, 6 October 2011

It's not working! Or is it?

So... I'm just over a month into my self-publishing journey, and I've sold 4 books, 2 to family, and given 2 more away, one as a giveaway and one to a reviewer. I've already blogged about my drastic false start (read the comments as well as the post), so I'm taking a slightly different tack with this self-indulgent whinge blog post.

The question I want to muse on today is how long you have to persevere with a strategy before you can legitimately decide that it isn't working, or at least that you are failing to make it work and need to change how you are doing it.

Let's start with the concrete example of what I've actually been doing. The largest part of my 'marketing strategy' has been the idea that if I'm charming and friendly on Twitter, and make a bunch of friends, some of them will buy my book, because they like me and they're willing to go out on a limb to try the book out.

So much for that good idea. I sold one book on Smashwords just after my launch, and likewise one on the Kindle store just after that launch, and I think that's the sum total of books I'll shift that way. I do have friends on Twitter, people I tweet with regularly who seem to enjoy my company. They're often willing to check this blog out, retweet stuff I say or plug, and generally be good citizens of the Twittersphere.

But it doesn't translate into sales. And neither, so far, has any friendship I have with anyone in 'real' (offline) life. There are all sorts of reasons why I haven't seen any progress, ranging from the fact that most of my real-life friends are relatively technologically ignorant of ebooks (I've had to explain several times that you don't need a Kindle to read ebooks), to a failure on my part to push my agenda hard enough. The fundamental point, though, is that it isn't working.

I know that it should be possible to sell more than 4 books in a month. Equally, I know that ebooks are a long-game prospect. Do I change my strategy?

I'm not a patient person. Like, seriously not. Not without reason - in about a year and a half, I run out of education system to hide behind, and I am desperate to avoid having to get a 9-5 day job - but without enough reason to justify being quite as impatient as I am. I was intending to have sold hundreds of books by this point, dammit!

Okay, while I can dream, I was a bit more realistic than that. I'd be happy to have sold a dozen books by now total. But what bothers me isn't really the number of books I haven't sold so much as the fact that the only thing I've done that's generated any sales seems to have been the actual publication. I've tweeted snippets and elevator pitches, posted samples to this blog and elsewhere. I've also done one interview and one guest blog (yes, in an ideal world I'd have done more, but I'm not massively convinced it would have made much difference). While all this activity has generated a few downloads of samples on Smashwords, no-one seems to be interested in actually shelling out.

It's pretty discouraging. Combine that with the slog I'm having getting through mh PhD work, the problems that the beta process has turned up with 'Some Kind of Angel' (yeah, there might be some delays with publication on that one), and OCTOBER, and I'm having a hard time keeping my spirits up. I've stopped putting plugs for the novel up on Twitter.

Instead, I'm trying other things; one thing I have none of at the moment is reviews. I remain confident that 'Heaven Can Wait' is a good book with a solid target audience, and I believe it will fare well in reviews. I've got a couple coming in later this month or sometime next, and assuming they turn out OK, I'll get in as many more as I can, because whereas people read guest blogs and interviews and so on out of curiosity, they read book reviews looking for something to read (or at least, I assume they do. I don't read reviews very often at all, usually only to get a second opinion on books someone's recommended to me by word-of-mouth). The '0 reviews' tags on my Amazon and Smashwords pages are starting to look really bleak.

There's also The Second Realm. The first story should go up on Monday, and I'll be posting the whole thing free on this blog (it'll be free on Smashwords and 99c on Amazon, until Amazon price-match it down). I may not be able to get people to buy something using Twitter, but I can get some traffic onto this blog, and I have this feeling that all I need to do is get a few people from my target audience to actually read some of my stuff, and we'll be away.

Lastly, I'm making an effort to participate in various bits of the fantasy community online, which throws up a whole wealth of problems of its own - blog post on those early next week, I think - but does at least put me in touch with readers more than writers.

Anyway, what do you think? Am I jumping ship on the Twitter strategy too early, or are you so offended that I'd think of trying to use your friendship to get you to buy my book that you'll never speak to me again? Would a positive review make you more likely to buy my book?


  1. Rik,

    I think I can say there are many other people on the same journey. I have sold a mighty 15 books (thanks mom) and have also been self promoting through twitter etc. I can say that the twitter community is friendly and amazingly helpful, however I think you will find more fellow writers than potential readers..

    I am now considering pitching ideas to publishers, old fashion style. Ebooks are the easiest way to publish your own work and I have loved the journey but its seems that so have 5 million others..

  2. (I'm not speaking from any wild success here. My first short-story anthology sold a whopping 16 copies.)

    I agree with Rob on the Twitter assessment: I believe there are more writers than readers there, unless you're an established author.

    Just because you're not selling as many copies as you'd like right now doesn't mean that, in a year and a half, you won't be. Keep doing what you're doing because at least you're getting visibility.

    The thing I've learned is that you have to go where the readers are. It's time consuming but I think it's necessary. Look for book bloggers. Join, lurk, and participate in online book forums. (I really like Mobile Reads.)

    Have you considered some advertising? There's a website called Fiverr that I plan to use for my first novel. People do things for $5, like post fliers or take pictures or make videos. It will depend on site TOS, but you may even be able to post a link to your website or blog under "services" in local classifieds ads.

    Don't give up if you don't think you should, and definitively don't give up unless you have a new plan to replace the one you're giving up.

    On a personal note, I did a ton of reading when I first decided to self-publish, and it looks like it takes about two years and at least three or four titles before you can expect to see the sort of sales and income you imagined when you decided to self-publish.

  3. I suspect I'm looking at more like a few thousand years and a few thousand books before I reach the sales and income I *imagined* when I got into this mess, but then I imagined living forever and solving all of mankind's problems, too...

    Thanks for commenting, both of you! :)

  4. Well I have noticed that some authors when they leave a comment do leave a tag behind to promote their books. And if you do that for book bloggers it might help. Also, jsut wanted to tell you that you have a unique story. I'm really enjoying it. Persisting is an important part of everything...if that weren't the case I'd stop writing. :)

  5. Thanks, Laila. I'm really pleased you're enjoying the book (made my day hearing it ^_^).

  6. The thing about the crowd we attract on Twitter, et. al., is that they're primarily writers. Writers do read, most of them, but what you/we/I really need to do is hang out with the readers, the ones who buy all the books. And, although ereaders are likely the future, the fact is most people do not own one now. Most people still prefer printed books.