Saturday, April 27, 2013

E-Book Experiment: Preliminary Conclusions

Like many writers, I’ve experienced my share of frustrations.  For me, the biggest of those frustrations is the difficulty of finding readers.  Like many writers, I’d be happy to become famous and/or rich as a result of my work, and like most writers, I probably won’t.

If you’ve been paying attention to the publishing industry over the last few years, you’re aware that it is in such a massive state of flux that even insiders don’t know what’s going on.  E-publishing, self-publishing, and an independent publishing renaissance have all been game changers.

It may never have been easier to publish a quality book.  But it has definitely never been harder to attract readers.  Two years ago, I did a promotion on, where I offered a Kindle version of my mystery novel Mediterranean Grave for free for three days.  I publicized this on Twitter, my blog, and on Facebook, and I gave away nearly 2,100 copies.

Last week, as part of my E-Book experiment, I offered my new e-book The Mummies of Blogspace9 free on for five days.  I promoted it on all my networks, blogged about it, Twitted about it, wrote several posts on Novel Spaces, featured it on all my networks, and spent $130 for promotion.  I even made an animated book trailer!  Ultimately, I gave away 304 copies.

I had my best day on Friday, April 19, when the book jumped to Amazon rank 2,640 for free books.  That means that on my best day, there were still 2,639 books being given away in greater quantities than mine.

This is saddening.

I found myself thinking of our recent California housing crash, when so many houses came onto the market that even beautiful luxury homes could he had for a fraction of what it cost to build them.  I think that’s where the publishing industry is right now.

Supply is rapidly and radically outpacing demand.  That being said, I’m not going to give up writing, and I don’t know anybody who is. 

I have been blogging, posting, Tweeting, and Facebooking regularly for a long time.  And many of my fellow writers out there are doing this as well, developing and maintaining a platform.  If anyone out there is finding that this has worked for them, and that they are satisfied with their sales, I would like to hear from them.

I’m not suggesting that a platform is a waste of time, or that it’s not worth doing.  It remains an essential part of our toolkit.  I’m not going to stop.  But as a strategy, it’s incomplete.

If the editors, agents, and other gatekeepers of old are gone, as they seem to be, then the new gatekeepers are us.  We are readers before writers, and we are reviewers.  I review books regularly and religiously, and I look at reviews before I pick a book.  I might not read all the reviews, but if a book has 200 good ones, and I was interested anyway, I’ll probably pick it up.

What I won’t do is stock up on low-priced or free e-books just because I think I’m getting a bargain.  I’ve never downloaded a book that I don’t plan to read, and I don’t know anyone who has.  I just don’t want to read something if I think I’m going to waste my time.  So without question, I’ll pick a free book with fifty five-star reviews over a more expensive one with fewer stars.

So what does this mean for us writers?  I think it means that in order for our work to get noticed, we need readers and we need reviewers.  And we’re not going to get readers without reviewers.  Maybe the most effective thing any writing community can do for its members is to regularly and honestly read and review the work produced by those members.

Because once you have fifty reviews for your book, you start to get noticed.  And once you start getting noticed, readers read.

It should go without saying that a poorly-written book is not going to sell, nor should it.  And a dishonest review is going to get you nowhere in the end.  But until we can work together as an effective guild of artists, we're just disparate groups of writers hoping to make it into the big leagues.

If that sounded like a request for reviews, it is.  Read my book.  I’ll read yours.  If you don’t like it, you can tell me.  I’m already old and cranky.  But if you do like it, hey, do me a favor and let everybody know.

My e-book experiment isn’t over.  I’m going to wait until I get twenty-five good reviews, and then I’m going to submit it to Book Bub, in hopes that they can blast it all over creation to attract more readers.   One positive note - I had hoped that this experiment would draw attention to my other books.  And it did - I sold twenty-four more copies of my other novels than I had the week before.  Not a lot, but it's not nothing. 



Patricia Gligor said...

I loved your post but, no, you are NOT, by any means, old and cranky! With so many books out there today, finding readers is a difficult task. Believe me, I share your frustration.
On a more positive note, the first noel in my Malone mystery series, "Mixed Messages," is free on Kindle today and tomorrow. I just checked my Amazon sales rank and I made #100 overall. Needless to say, I'm excited. Will this translate into increased book sales? Only time will tell.

Patricia Gligor said...

Too funny! I just noticed my typo. "Mixed Messages" isn't a noel; it's a novel. See how excited I get when something good happens with my book? LOL

William Doonan said...

That's great, Patricia!!! Congratulations. See, if you write a good book, there's still hope!!

C.L. Swinney said...

I think you are right on with this one. The real problem I see in our industry is that it changes daily and what you are doing successfully today falls flat on its face tomorrow. Word of mouth will never be outdone in our industry. Reviews, good or bad, are an extension of "word of mouth." Thanks for sharing and keep us posted.

Lynn Emery said...

Informative and good info to consider. Thanks.

William Doonan said...

C.L., that's the size of it, I think. Even though we've computerized the whole industry, word of mouth is still the best sales tool.

Theresa Varela said...

Word of mouth is indeed a great tool. Having access to authors is another. Reading blog posts, interviews and author backstories always intrigue me and I end up adding more stories to my TBR list that lengthens. Too bad I haven't figured out how to read faster.

Jane Turley said...

Hi Bill:)

I do enjoy your thoughtful posts:)

I'd just like to add a couple of thoughts: I am really glad you have pointed out that maybe writers themselves should be the gatekeepers for the self publishing industry by reviewing books. Until such time that the industry comes to terms with what is happening (and I think that's agents and publishers giving authors a fairer cut of the profits - particularly with ebooks) and then reasserting themselves as gatekeepers it IS important that other writers give thoughtful and discerning reviews. To this extent it annoys the hell out of me when I read (in numerous places) on the net other writers who refuse to do so because their afraid of retribution/bad press (or various other excuses!)Writers, are by the very nature of their work some of the best people to review other writing! To be honest, I just think the reasons I hear are lame excuses. In the UK we would say it's time for those folks to "get some balls"! And, on the other side of the coin, if as a writer you put work into the public domain you cannot expect everyone to like it or to be heaped with praise like some seem to expect just because they've actually gone through the process of writing a book - that doesn't mean it's any good! In my opinion if another author writes a review with honesty and integrity that is far more valuable than a review full of rhetoric from your mother:) And, let's face it, an avid reader who reads a good number of book reviews on Amazon is going to pick up fairly easily what is or isn't a thoughtful, coherent review.

I do agree quantity of reviews is very important. As a matter of interest, I always read the one star reviews first and then work up to five star. I start off on the premise a book isn't good enough and then see if I can be convinced otherwise. It seems to work for me!

I should add that I have written critical book reviews for a lit mag of some very well known writers. They may come out of the woodwork to haunt me now I'm on my own road to publication but if so, I'll just have to tough it out. I've got a thick breastplate and a sharp sword ready just in case:))

Marissa Monteilh said...

William, this is an excellent post! I totally agree that supply outweighs demand nowadays. Years ago we would say, "There are more than enough readers to go around." I stopped saying that.

I, too, had a free book promo and sold thousands of books, yet when I brought the price of another book down to $.99, the sales were a few hundred. I know that the word FREE works wonders, I just wanted to see if it was true what some authors say, that $.99 books are attracting more readers, just based on the price, turning readers heads away from books over $5.00. But I still think that if a reader needs to pay, even $.10, we'd better have some other aspects to attract them other than price, otherwise they won't press the button to order it, and for sure they won't read it once its downloaded.

And yes, reviews are crucial. How do we get readers to be willing to take the time and review, and in a way, get them to understand they have a certain responsibility in our future as writers? My editor told me reviews are word of mouth, just as you said. Most readers just want us to write.

And so, I keep writing, but things are very different, and we're all trying to adjust, figure it out, stay ahead, and strive for success.

Best, and thanks!!


William Doonan said...

Thanks, Jane and Marissa,

We'll keep plugging away at it. And yes, I agree that readers should pay for quality art. I'm working every day on the quality, but I still haven't figured out how to get readers.

John Brantingham said...

I think ultimately, you have to write for love, but promotion and sales have to be for love as well. It's not always going to do well, but if you enjoy doing it, you won't get as frustrated. What that means is that it has to be something that is fun. Now, that's the hard part -- finding a niche that's good and fun!

Jewel Amethyst said...

Several years ago I made that observation when everybody and their grandmother seemed to be writing and self publishing a book. There is such a flood of books on the market that to stand out among them is very difficult. As for free books, so many people are offering free books and many are not that good. I had a friend who refused to download free books on her kindle because she thought they were all just bad.

As much as I think she is throwing out the baby with the bathwater, it unfortunately reflects the thinking of many readers, that if it is free on kindle, it is substandard.

William Doonan said...

I hear you, John, and that's why I'm still forging ahead. If nobody wants to read my books, it isn't going to stop me.

I hear you, Jewel, and I don't want books to be free either. But I figured it couldn't hurt to try it out for a few days.

bettye griffin said...

Several months ago I made my first indie title free on Smashwords and at my eStore. I remembered to remove it from free at my eStore (I actually set it up with an expiration date), but forgot all about Smashwords. Then someone informed me the eBook was free on Amazon (I've since learned it is also free on iTunes and Kobo). In two weeks it has been downloaded over 5000 times and reached the the Top 5 of its genre after the first few days. My gut tells me that my eBook is simply going to be taking up space on most people's Kindles...but I did get two very nice additional reviews out of it, which tells me that a few, at least, have actually read it.

I personally don't like the 99-cent pricing. I feel I charge a fair price for my product. I've been fortunate in that my sales have been good (I was a traditionally published author with an established audience before going indie while still under contract and now do indie exclusively). I feel for those who work hard to produce quality eBooks that languish in sales rankings. I have been trying new and different methods myself to expand my readership, and I urge you to keep experimenting. In most cases it doesn't take anything but time, and if you don't try it, you'll never know. Good luck to you.

Liane Spicer said...

William, your findings align with my observations. The thousands of free books available on a daily basis are killing the industry. I've also been questioning this whole issue of platform for years--it's why I don't spend much time on FB or Twitter.

I agree with Bettye that time might be the answer. An indie writer I know sold more than 40,000 titles over the last two years, but some of her books were up there on Amazon since 2005. Hang in there, buddy. We're in it for the long haul.

Charles Gramlich said...

With the changing of a few titles, it almost sounded as if I could have written this blog post. Your experience has largely been mine right down the line. I'm particularly having a hard time with platform because I write across so many genres. But, like you, I don't intend to quit. At least not yet!