Self-Publishing is a Lot Like Dieting
It’s two months since I self-published my first novel, Keep Away From Those Ferraris. It’s been a topsy turvy ride so far, with some valuable lessons along the way. The main one is this – self-publishing is a bit like going on a diet.
Here’s how I stumbled on that nugget. The book sold well through December. I had built some momentum before launching through social media, appearances on the RTE Today Show and my columns in the Sunday Independent. I reckon I got a decent bunch of paperback sales as quick and easy Christmas presents. Then I got some download action from people who got a new Kindle from their partner, even though they would have preferred a weekend in Paris.
Then it went eerily quiet. They call this the sales cliff on the forums. It’s not a great name. At least if you fall off a cliff you’re moving, if only for a while. What actually happens when your book stops selling is that you get stuck. I got to hate the numbers 8, 11 and 18. Those were the scores on the doors for my paperback, Kindle US and Kindle UK sales when all activity ground to a halt. I went from checking sales every couple of hours to every 30 minutes, as if this would move things along. The next stage of panic is to assume large parts of the internet are broken and people can’t buy my book. I searched the self-publishing forums and found that people were asking ‘why have my books stopped selling’ every single day. This happens to everybody, all the time.
I did what a lot people do in early January. I went looking for a quick and easy fix. The internet is good when you want a quick and easy fix. I lapped up books and articles telling me I didn’t need to bother publicising my work with a time-consuming blog. (I came across the same message in a good few blogs. Beat that for a bit of irony.) I was presented with a cheat sheet of easy options. I took a few of them. These included a Facebook ad, a 99c sale and picking another category on Amazon. I tried them all together for one week in January. The scores on the doors at the end of that week told their own story – 8, 11 and 18. Nobody bought the book.
This is why self-publishing reminds me of dieting. Both industries are surrounded by people who are keen to offer you a quick fix. This is hardly a surprise. Modern life keeps getting busier and human beings are lazy. No wonder people go for a diet that warns them of the dangers of the exercise while pointing out they are not eating enough choc-mallows.
I’m done with the quick fix. I spent almost €50 on Facebook boosted posts in an attempt to get out of the sales cliff. I got one click-through to Amazon in those posts. I generated less than €10 of royalties around that time. You might argue the campaign gave me exposure on Facebook that will convert to sales over time. I doubt it. People have short memories on the internet. The next post on their timeline is probably a hippopotamus dancing the Charleston and they will have forgotten about my book forever.
Here is what I know for certain after two months of trying to sell my book. There is no quick fix. There is only slow grind. After the initial rush of buyers around the launch (I sold 140 units in 60 days), I am now selling books one by one. That means giving people something of value and demonstrating to them that I can write. That means blogging.
I have started a weekly post on my own blog at patfitzptrick.ie, where I recap sales and promotional activity. Catherine-Ryan Howard hosted a guest post of mine the following week. The result was a flurry of new followers on twitter, likes on my Facebook page and 10 sales in a week. A few other self-publishers out there have shared their view of the world. I feel re-energised for the road ahead.
Writers are lucky that we can raise our profile through blogging. Writing is our stock in trade. An 800 word piece is a bite-size snapshot of what we can do. It is also another bit of practise in the craft. It’s like cycling to work in a bid to lose weight. It all adds up in the end.
Launching Keep Away From Those Ferraris was the first chapter in my Adventures in Self-Publishing. I’m happy with it for starters and it thought me a cheap lesson – beware anyone with a quick fix. I will keep writing.ie readers up to date with articles here once a month. In the meantime I must get back to writing the sequel. Talk soon.
(c) Pat Fitzpatrick