I really haven't set the world on fire with my ebook publishing. I haven't even done as well as I'd hoped. But I haven't done all that bad either. In February, the most recent month for which I seem to have full data, I sold 81 books across all channels (not including freebies). I think 33 of those were at Amazon.
When I started, a little over a year ago, I knew that I couldn't expect Konrath-level success. So I sought out people who were more at my level. I have published a lot of short fiction, and had a certain amount of "almost" interactions with editors and agents on books. I also worked as a first reader, script reader and competition judge.
But I have not won out in comparison with these colleagues. After a year, I'm at the lower end of the spread.
However, I do believe I set my sights artificially high: Let's face it, the people who are quickest to tell about their experiences are those who have had the best experiences. Those who aren't doing so well don't really want to talk about it. (This happened when I was writing for eHow too -- everyone had an inflated idea of how much money an "average" article would make for members. When we did polls, we found out the actual average was lower.)
Maybe it's my ego speaking, but I suspect I'm a lot more average than it seems, and for that reason I figure I should talk about it.
And while my ego is speaking (so take this with a grain of salt) I'll look back on the year, and what I've observed, and tell you the reasons I think I haven't burst into the stratosphere:
1.) I started with the wrong book.... or did I?
The people who have done really well at indie publishing are mainly people who write a marketable, commercial book, and have a consistent body of work -- in other words, the same books and writers who are likely to do well at traditional publishing. Sure, a lot of them had a hard time getting published anyway, because it's a crowded market, and publishers thrive on scarcity. Each publisher will publish only so many paranormal romances, even if the audience is hungry for them.
It's really easy to match those books with that hungry audience, even if the author is pushing the envelope this way or that way. And once the book is matched with the audience, it's up to the book itself to sell.
For me? Last year, the future was still very hazy, and traditional publishing still looked like a good idea for my more commercial books. So I decided to test the water with my non-commercial books. My "what the heck genre is this anyway" books which I never intended to even try with traditional publishing.
So why would that be a problem for my whole career? Well, when I put out my more commercial work, any audience will find these other books confusing. Will they like my other stuff? Should they try it? And if they were to try it and dislike it, would they then be turned off everything I write?
So why would this NOT be a problem? Because everything I write is somewhat hard to categorize. Everything is a little bit non-commercial. I might as well start with the hard stuff.
And that is a nice segue into the next reason:
2.) I write in inconsistent and dead genres (and not even all the same genres).
It isn't that everything I write is not salable, it's just that everything I write is not what people expect. It's hard to raise anticipation when people can't tell for sure what something is. Is a mystery western going to be too westerny? Is it going to be western enough? Is there going to be a history quiz, or should we expect John Wayne? And the silly title... does that mean it's going to be Tarantino silly, or Bugs Bunny silly? Am I going to be wincing during the shootouts? Or am I going to be bored with how sanitized they are?
In the mean time, I have learned something over the years about my writing: editors and fellow writers, etc., always start out thinking I did certain things by accident. Then they realize I did it on purpose, and they have a moment of confusion. I meant to do that? And then they get it, and ask for more. (Or run screaming away.)
The reason it's hard to get at first is not because I am too different, but because I'm not different enough. I like to color close to the lines, and when you do that, people expect you to stay inside them. They think you made a mistake when you slip just outside the line. If you meant it, you'd go further...wouldn't you? That bugs people. At first. Until they get it. (If they get it.)
And I'm not going to stop doing that, because it's fun. (I do it when I'm driving too. I like ruts, but I don't think they should be so well defined. So I drive on the edge of the rut.)
3.) I can't afford a cover which would please me, so I'd rather be displeased with my own free covers.
Covers are important, and I'd definitely do better with better covers. But given points one and two, a really great cover will probably mislead the audience anyway. (For instance, Harsh Climate has a cover which looks more commercial, more serious, and less quirky than the story really is. Is that a good thing?)
4.) Since my books are not so easily marketable, I have chosen a much slower path toward fame and fortune.
I don't have a book in a hot genre, so there really isn't a point in getting a slick cover, pricing at 99 cents and promoting the heck out of it.
My sales were higher when I did more promotion. But the time and effort spent was not at all worth those results. If my body of work were more standard, I might put in more effort on that front. I do believe that under the right circumstances, promoting the heck out of your work and spending money and lowering your price and all that can pay off in dividends later. I don't think I have the kind of books which benefit from that, (and I don't know that even the kind of books which can benefit will always benefit).
Some of my books are commercial enough, though, that when I have several that go together, regular marketing will be more worth my time. But I'm not there yet.
So what is my strategy going forward?
Given what I've said above, it's pretty clear that I've got to get people used to my style. Which means:
1. Go back to basics; You must write. Good Old Heinlein and his rules. Get a lot of work out there and spread it around. That means I will be doing a lot of short fiction, as well as finishing up my novels and working forward on the next.
2. Get the work out there. I will be submitting fiction to commercial markets again, and also looking for guest post opportunities for short fiction. And, of course, the Story Sunday here, which will include excerpts sometimes, but I really want to commit to having fun short fiction here every week.
3. Stop worrying about strategy. Which book is next? Should I do this or that? I've got too much to do to take time to fret. If I put that energy into writing, I'll get to all the books faster. (And when I get enough books done, my body of work might start making sense.)
4. Keep working on the art. Whether it's buying a cover, or working on my own skills, a cover reflects your brand.
5. And speaking of brands, this blog is important to building a relationship with readers. This is the most comfortable way to put myself out there.
So for this week, we finish up the Hemingway's Baby Shoes competition -- the deadline is Saturday at midnight EST. I might be a little lenient since I don't have many entries yet.
I will post a list and links to all the entrants on Tuesday -- and if I don't get flooded with last minute entries, I will post the winner then too. (If I DO get flooded with last minute entries, I'll let you know Tuesday when I expect to announce.)
In the meantime, I will post my usual Story Sunday (an excerpt from The Curse of Scattershale Gulch, I think) then the story notes on Monday.
See you in the funny papers.