As I check my sales figures for the past month, I find I have sold close to 1000 e-books in February alone. This is far beyond the expectations I had when I ventured into the e-book market a year ago. As a previously published author (romance/chick-lit and contemporary fiction), I had recently gained back all rights to my books and decided to dip my toe into the, for me, completely unknown e-book market. I was at a loose end, waiting to hear from publishers about two books that had been submitted through my agent about six months earlier. During this time, I had realised that it was becoming more and more difficult to get published, even for an author with an agent and a good track record in sales. I decided I had nothing to lose and dived in.
I published two books from my backlist, Fresh Powder and Finding Margo (both previously published by New Island in 2007 and 2008), as e-books on Smashwords and Amazon Kindle at the beginning of February 2010, along with my self-published title, Swedish for Beginners. A little later on, I re-edited another novel from my backlist (published by Blacktaff Press in 2003) and gave it a new, funky title and cover. ‘European Affairs’ became Villa Caramel. Sales began trickling in and then increased at an astonishing rate.
Both Swedish for Beginners and A Woman’s Place have previously been uploaded on Authonomywww.authonomy.com (a site for writers, run by Harper Collins) and were in the top 100 before I took them down. In addition to using all the great critiques I got from fellow authors on Authonomy, the books have been professionally edited and proofread which is a must when uploading a novel that you offer for sale. (If you can’t afford editing, which can be expensive, do at least get some beta-readers to read and comment before you do the final proofreading).
Once my books were e-published, I was astonished at how quickly sales started to take off, especially on Amazon. It wasn’t the earnings that delighted me the most, however, it was the direct contact with readers. I have been able to reach people right across the globe; in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and all over the US with the e-book versions of my novels. They have sent me e-mails and ‘talked’ to me on various forums, telling me they enjoyed my stories. They also put some wonderful reviews on all my books.
All this has made me change the way I think about my writing career. As I have built up a considerable readership since the start of my e-book venture and watched it growing steadily, I now feel that I no longer want to sit around and wait to hear from publishers. I would be very reluctant to give up my e-book rights, as I now earn three times more than I did with my published, printed books. I have also said a fond farewell to my agent, as I really don’t need one anymore. It might seem strange to take such a drastic step but as the publishing market changes, I felt I had to change too and think in a completley different way.
I will soon be e-publishing a detective story, Virtual Strangers, co-written with Ola Saltin, who I met on Authonomy.
Here are a few of the things I found worked well for me:
I priced my books at $2.99 which seems to hit the right middle ground between not too expensive and and high enough to earn the hard-working author a little bit of money. Priced any higher and the sales slow down and earnings are less. Also, in order to earn the 70%royalties on Amazon, the books must be priced at a minimum of $2.99 and not be cheaper anywhere else. I have also found that running a sale at the price of $0.99 for a limited time works wonders, giving that particular book a boost which then spills over to all the others.
This is very individual and what works for one author doesn’t always work for others. I have found that it takes a while to build up that all-important Internet platform and participating in various forums is a very good idea. But I have done it slowly, over time and tried not to look too eager to sell my books. It’s more about creating a pleasing persona that potential readers will like and then seek out that person’s books.
Forums I find good for attracting readers and also networking with author authors are:
The Indie Spot: http://indiespot.myfreeforum.org/index.php
Nearly everyone has a Facebook account by now and this is a very good place to advertise. In my opinion, Facebook works best if you do the same as I have described above, don’t go for the hard sell but be yourself and try to be chatty, fun and informative. I personally don’t mass e-mail my friends or ask anyone to buy my books. I don’t ever complain about setbacks but keep an optimistic tone and announce any good news about sales or reviews.
Having a blog is also a great way to showcase your writing and if you keep it informative and fun you’ll soon attract followers.
The advantage with e-books is that they never go out of date. Nobody takes them off the shelves to make space for new releases. They are there for as long as I want them to be and will keep selling (I hope) without coming to the end of their shelf-life. Compared to e-books, selling printed books now seems to me to be like trying to sell elephants.
A few points to remember:
1) Make sure your book is properly edited and proofread. If you can’t afford to pay for editing, get some beta-readers. You’ll find people willing to beta- read on the two sites I mentioned above.
2) Get the book formatted to as near perfection as possible. I had mine formatted by a professional (Dellaster Design, www.dellasterdesign.com , which cost me around $89 per book, well worth it, in my opinion
3) Have a nice cover. It’s important to spend a little time to do this, whether you do it yourself or get a cover designer do it for you. Bradley Wind has done two fantastic covers for me and I did one myself (Silver Service and Virtual Strangers). [Check out writing.ie Services for Writers section of a brilliant and very reasonable cover designer as well as editors.]
4) Promote your book on Facebook, Twitter and readers’ and writers’ forums.
The e-book market is already growing very fast in the US and it won’t be long before it picks up in the rest of the world. In the beginning, it’s wise to target the US market and then the rest will follow. I don’t think ‘real’ books will ever disappear and e-books will probably not ever be THE market. But it’s going to be a big part of it.