Doug asked what I’ve learned in my self-publishing endeavors. I’ll do my best to answer. But first, you should have an idea of what I have published.
1. Flogging the Quill, Crafting a Novel that Sells. FtQ readers are familiar with this. The book is based on a number of blog posts I wrote over the first couple of years of FtQ on the craft of storytelling. I published this “traditionally,” that is, I printed copies and found a distributor. So far I’ve sold about 500 copies, which I’ve read is exceptional for a self-published book. It’s working because I’ve spent years building the FtQ platform. It has also helped me get a number of gigs doing a workshop at writers conferences—I have two this fall.
2. The Vampire Kitty-cat Chronicles is the first novel I published. The paperback version is POD (print on demand) via Lightning Source, which gives me the best return (lower printing costs) and includes distribution in the U.S. and abroad. I went all out for this one, including creating a video trailer for it, podcasts of all the chapters, and sent it out for reviews. Reviews ranged from 5 stars by readers and Midwest Book Reviews to 1 star from someone who took personal offense at some of the satirical elements that other readers loved. I’ve also published e-versions via Amazon Kindle and Smashwords.
3. Next came We the Enemy, my “novel of the heart,” the one I HAD to publish. I’ve invested the most resources in WtE, including $2500 for a critique by a top editor/publisher (which provoked a massive rewrite that he felt was publishable) and several hundred bucks for a copyeditor to make sure the product was as professional as possible. The paperback is POD through Lightning Source, and ebooks are available from Kindle, Smashwords, Barnes & Nobel, etc. I tried promoting it to college newspapers, thinking that a novel of ideas would be of interest. It wasn’t, so much.
4. Finding Magic is just about to come out in paperback, again POD through Lightning Source, and is now available in ebook form from the above-mentioned sources. I’ll be sending the paperback out for reviews. This one is particularly difficult to position. But, having just gone through it again, it is a striking story with some of my best writing. Now if only readers will discover and review it.
5. There’s one more in production, The Summer Boy. I’ll follow the same path here. Because it’s set in Texas and is a coming-of-age story that takes place in the late 1950s, I hope to gain some traction by promoting it in Texas and to early baby-boomers. It’s the last one I have, and next will come . . . I’m not sure. I have sequel ideas for the first three, with one about my vampire kitty-cat that seems like it could be the most commercial.
Whew. Now to Doug’s questions.
1. What worked the way you thought, what didn't, what needed a different approach, and what still isn't working well despite trying various approaches?
The one that worked out mostly the way I thought is Flogging the Quill, Crafting a Novel that Sells. The print run was right, and sales keep on trickling in. Reader response has been universally enthusiastic, and I’m grateful.
My expectation for the fiction was that it could take a loooooong time to build sales, and that is what is happening. When I set my price for ebooks at 99 cents, there was a modest uptick in sales for The Vampire Kitty-cat Chronicles and Finding Magic. I was disappointed that all the creative work that went into the kitty-cat video trailer and the podcasts didn’t seem to result in any significant sales, but I’m glad I did them (since I did the podcasts myself and the trailer with the help of a designer friend, I didn’t invest more than a couple of hundred dollars in them).
I still think that my vampire kitty-cat has possibilities, and that perhaps a well-done sequel could get it going. If I can figure out how to do it in print, I’d love to offer a double book that contains both novels.
Reactions by most reviewers to We the Enemy have been gratifying—it seems to work the way I wanted it to. But sales are at the trickle level. Finding Magic hasn’t been out there long enough to make any judgments, and the paperback is yet to come.
2. How are your printed book sales compared with e-book sales?
I’m guessing a little more on the ebook side, but numbers are hard to track. Only the printed book has more or less paid for itself yet, but I planned on a long haul.
3. Do you see a difference in print/e-book ratio between your non-fiction and fiction works?
I have no answer for that because the non-fiction has not been done in ebook format.
4. Is going e-only a reasonable approach at this point, or is it worth the effort to have a print option?
I think that going ebook only is reasonable, especially considering the success of some writers, but you will note that, once their ebooks took off, they offered print options as well. The real benefit of having a print option is that it’s difficult to secure reviews from many sources if you don’t have one. So far, all of my printed books have gotten 5-star reviews from Midwest Book Reviews, and that couldn’t have happened without the print versions.
Print versions give you more opportunities for other kinds of sales. For example, just a couple of weeks ago I placed a small display of The Vampire Kitty-cat Chronicles in a veterinary clinic. I have no idea if it will work, but an ebook couldn’t do it. I also sell a number of copies of Flogging the Quill, Crafting a Novel that Sells at the writers conferences where I do my workshop.
5. How much money and time did you end up putting into the self-publishing aspects of your various books?
Lots of time—I not only write the books, I design the covers and the interiors, and that takes plenty of Photoshop and InDesign work. Costs include $125 for ISBN numbers for each book. For Flogging the Quill, Crafting a Novel that Sells, it cost a few thousand to print the copies, and there’s an ongoing warehousing and servicing cost. For the POD books, Lightning Source charges a $75 set-up fee, and the initial proof costs about $40, as I recall. For the podcasts, I invested a little over $100 in a good mic, but the software was free. I’ve mentioned the editorial investments for We the Enemy.
6. Is it paying off, either in lucre or in personal satisfaction?
Lucre, no. Personal satisfaction, yes. Like many of you, I’ve spent countless hours querying literary agents, and I had a literary agent for a couple of years. None of that has generated anything other than some flattering rejections from a few agents.
On the other hand, I KNOW from the reactions of readers to my books that they are, for most people, really good reads. None of my fiction fits snugly into any genres, but it turns out that they are rewarding for people who read them. So I feel validated in many ways.
More than that, though, there have been rewards in the continual learning that has happened. The input from others (including FtQ readers) and working, working, working has sharpened my writing and editing. In addition, I’ve learned a lot about how to publish a book, including designing covers and interiors. I am now in the process of building a “budget” resource for self- and indie publishers that includes a la carte options of editing, design, set-up with Lightning Source, ebook formatting, and more through my FtQ Press business. I have two design projects for a small indie publisher coming in August, and another possible interior design project that’s currently on hold.
I’m working on a free short book on what writers need to know and do in order to self-publish for the lowest cost and best profit opportunity. You can do much better than Lulu.com or CreateSpace, in my view.
Bottom line, in terms of growth as a person, as a writer, as a designer, and as an editor, I have to say that my work at self-publishing has been rewarding, and I think it will continue to be. I am confident that I can help other writers with their storytelling and, if they want to self-publish, in making a good book. And I haven’t given up on my hope to “partner publish” books by other writers.
Thanks for asking, Doug (and thanks for the insight on “just deserts” in a recent post).
For what it’s worth.
© 2011 Ray Rhamey