It’s a Writer’s Revolution

 The following article was originally published in the Virginia Romance Writers monthly newsletter, Novel Ideas.  I have updated my sales and marketing information since the original publication.

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The e-book buzz has been building for years but now, with e-reader prices coming down, readers are moving to e-books at a faster and faster clip.  

It’s an exciting new world for readers. 

As e-books become a more important part of the market, publishers have to figure out how to shift to accommodate multiple formats, enhanced content, pricing expectations, and timing of digital vs. print releases. 

It’s an expanded and complicated new world for publishers. 

New ways to publish books digitally and directly to distributors means writers have options they never had before.  Backlist books can have new life.  Unmarketable stories (according to agents or editors or marketing departments) can find their niches.  Or traditional publishers can be skipped for the independent route altogether.

It’s a revolutionary new world for writers.

My road to revolution:

In the last quarter of 2010, I became a revolutionary.  About a year and a half ago I started reading A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing, Joe Konrath’s blog, and I started to get excited by the possibilities of this new paradigm in publishing. I realized that my backlist, all out of print, though one was still offered electronically, was languishing.  A whisper was beginning among published authors that perhaps, just maybe, we could take these oop books back and give them a new and exciting future.  Maybe, just maybe, we could take back control of our careers and find new ways to be published authors.

I started by getting my rights back from my publisher — a lengthy, but ultimately not difficult process, especially since my agent managed this. Over the summer I found a talented young artist to create new covers for my books, and I began to proof my electronic copies of my books against the edited paperback versions.  Next I used the Smashwords.com formatting guide to get my files ready for publication.  In late September, 2010, I put The Devil of Kilmartin up at Kindle, then Smashwords.  It had been the only one of my backlist available from my publisher electronically. 

In the previous royalty period (six months) it had sold six electronic copies at the paperback price of $5.99 with a 15% royalty.  The first week it was up at Kindle for $2.99 (70% royalty on US and UK sales!) it sold six copies without me doing anything other than adding it to my signature line on my emails. Two of those sales happened before I even told anyone the book was available. 

In one week I’d equaled the previous six months worth of sales.

In late October I republished Charming the Shrew and in mid-November Daring the Highlander.  I joined Backlist eBooks, a marketing cooperative dedicated to authors republishing their traditionally published backlist books, began tweeting more often, and stuck my toe in the water at Kindle Boards.  In November I revamped my website completely.  I joined KindleKlatch, an email loop dedicated to the topic of marketing e-books (backlist and digital originals) for traditionally published authors.  Every time I get a moment to catch up on my email loops, I learn new things about prepping books for the different e-reader formats, new spinoff services for those who don’t want to do the prep work themselves, and new ways to get the word out, not just about my specific books, but about the whole idea of e-books. 

My sales are rising at Amazon from that modest beginning of 6 copies sold in September, 2010, to a total of 7032 copies as of about 8:00 am this morning, 3/9/11.  Amazon is by far my best venue, but I’ve also sold 28 books at Smashwords.  Smashwords has also distributed my books to all the other major e-book retailers though I don’t get timely sales report from those sources.  As of the dates noted this is what I know has sold at other venues: 81 copies at Barnes & Noble (as of 12/25/10), 45 at Sony (2/26/11), 40 at Apple (12/25/10), and 25 at Kobo (1/29/11). The books were also distributed to Diesel, but so far no sales have been reported there. Note that in the case of B&N and Apple the numbers are only through Christmas day and all the velocity in my sales has occurred after that date so as you can imagine, I’m chomping at the bit to see what’s happening sales-wise at those sites.

I haven’t done a lot of marketing. Backlist eBooks has run a couple of sales that I’ve participated in. I’ve done one guest blog at SavvyAuthors.com and I’ve run one banner ad for Charming the Shrew at Kindleboards.com. I’ve tweeted a little and put some things on my Facebook page.  My books were featured at DailyCheapReads.com on Valentine’s Day. 

But something happened on January 31st, which was the day my banner ad ran and just a few days after my Savvy Authors guest blog post, that put Daring the Highlander on Amazon’s 100 Hot New Releases in Historical Romance bestseller list.  I have no idea if my small efforts had anything to do with landing on the list or if it was just coincidental timing, but that was the tipping point and sales began to climb very quickly, so that by the end of February I had beat my January sales 5 fold and all three books landed on other bestseller lists at Amazon during February (and are still there!).

That’s my short story. I have high hopes that it will end up being an epic tale.

Your road to revolution?

What does this new publishing paradigm hold for the not-yet-published writer?  It’s hard to say. There are stories cropping up of those never traditionally published authors who are going the indie route and are being discovered by readers. Amanda Hocking’s name is murmured on the net with shades of awe and envy.  I throw around J.A. Konrath’s name on a regular basis, especially since he’s been a mentor, via his blog, to many of us taking the indie route. 

What I do know is that professional editing, professional covers, a professional looking web site, great book blurbs and as many reviews as possible are all required to show your book, whether previously published or independently published, is a professional product.  It’s a lot of work that traditional publishers have done for authors in the past, but in exchange for doing the work yourself (or hiring professionals to do it for you) you will have more control over your books and your career, and you’ll keep a hefty chunk of the profits.  For some writers the trade off isn’t worth the work and, honestly, the up-front money.  For others, it opens up new vistas. 

Fortunately, both paths to publication are available and both have obstacles and opportunities. Many authors are taking both paths, using the new paradigm for some books and the traditional paradigm for others.

However, the revolution is gaining momentum as more and more authors see the possibilities of this new publishing model.  Readers are also jumping on board with blogs and bulletin boards dedicated to bargain e-books and indie e-books.  Marketers and PR folks are starting to join the revolution as the method of getting the word out changes to match the e-format of the books themselves.  Artists, editors and copyeditors are finding new work as authors begin to seek out professional services themselves, rather than through the traditional publication process.

This new path has allowed me to rediscover the thrill of both publishing and writing after a long disenchanted lull in my career. I’m working on a new Scottish historical now.  I’ll publish it myself.  It’s a lot of work, and there are no guarantees of success, but then, that’s writing. My publishing future will be in my own hands, right where it should be. 

I’m taking the revolutionary route.

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