★ One Thing About Me

A couple of years back, I was faced with a group of twenty-five nervous fresh­ers in a first-year psy­cho­logy sem­in­ar. I broke the ice by play­ing the Three Things About Me game. This game — or, at least, the ver­sion I play — involves say­ing three things about your­self. Two things must be true and one must be false. The aim of the game is to make the lie so com­pel­ling that your part­ner can’t guess cor­rectly which of the three things is untrue.

When I explained the rules of the game to the ter­ri­fied stu­dents, I included ‘sci­ence fic­tion author’ as one thing; ‘half-mara­thon run­ner’ as anoth­er; ‘piano play­er’ as the third. Most of the stu­dents guessed cor­rectly that ‘piano play­er’ was the lie.

But, deep down, I felt that ‘sci­ence fic­tion author’ was a lie too. By that point, it had been sev­er­al years since I’d pub­lished Déjà Vu. Was I still an author? Are you an author if you don’t have any­thing out there? Maybe it’s bet­ter to say ‘I wrote a book once’.

I wrote a book once called Déjà Vu. It came out in 2005. Seven weeks ago, I self-pub­lished it for the Amazon Kindle. I would have been happy with three cus­tom­ers. I have one thou­sand.

To put this in per­spect­ive, I’ve read via Bubblecow that

…if a nov­el sells 10,000 cop­ies in a year it is doing well. For a first time nov­el­ist, with little track record, a fig­ure of 2000 cop­ies per year is prob­ably closer to the truth.

By this met­ric, a ‘doing well’ nov­el sells 192 cop­ies per week. Déjà Vu has sold an aver­age of 142 cop­ies per week.

The Amazon Kindle self-pub­lish­ing mod­el means that authors have a great deal of free­dom in the set­ting of the price, as long as you don’t want to sell it for free. If you give a list price of $2.99 or over, you can get a 70% roy­alty option.

Think about that for a moment. A 70% roy­alty. That num­ber isn’t far off from the one most buy­ers assume is going towards the artist when they buy a book or CD. The real­ity, of course, is that roy­alty rates are closer to 10–15%.

The list price I’ve giv­en is $0.99. For this, I get a 35% roy­alty. In Amazon’s roy­alty state­ments (which you receive, like clock­work, on the 15th of each month), they will use the ‘aver­age list price’ to cal­cu­late your total roy­alty. For Déjà Vu, this is £0.62. So 35% of this is 21.7 pence per copy sold.

Thus far, then, I’ve made £217 (ish).

I’m provid­ing these fig­ures in a spir­it of open­ness, mostly because (i) I don’t care who knows what the sales are and (ii) they demon­strate that I — as a lone author, with no tra­di­tion­al pub­lish­er — can make money on a book using the Kindle.

This second point interests me. I’ve nev­er made money on a book before. Ever.

Let’s be hon­est: this is a very small amount of money. But this is just one book. An author with sev­er­al and a bit of mar­ket­ing push would clearly make a lot more. I’ve sold only 10% of these cop­ies to the American Kindle store, which is by far the largest Kindle mar­ket. If an author could get noticed in that mar­ket, the fig­ures would prob­ably be much high­er.

A final point: The rank­ings data show that sales for Déjà Vu have been fairly con­stant fol­low­ing an ini­tial increase about three days into the avail­ab­il­ity peri­od. There’s no down­ward trend at the moment.

If you’re an actu­al or would-be Kindle author and would like the bene­fit of my vast, sev­en-week exper­i­ence, read on.

Things I did right

The cov­er is very good. I can say this immune from the charge of immod­esty because the pre­ced­ing cov­ers (all my own handi­work) were shit. The cov­er is prob­ably enti­cing people to look at the book. I’m sure that cov­ers in gen­er­al mean a lot to people.

The price is right. It’s delib­er­ately low — at 70p, or 99c — because my goal is not to make money. I get plenty from my day job. A glance at the Scifi/Mystery and Crime as of lunch­time Friday 22nd April shows that it’s at #2. Four of the oth­ers in the top ten are priced less than £1.

Whatever the price range for an impulse buy is, Déjà Vu falls with­in it. This prob­ably helped the book to chart early. Once a book charts, it’s then in a place where people who just want to buy a book of a type — tech­no­thrill­er, sci­ence fic­tion, whatever — can go and buy it, cre­at­ing a vir­tu­ous circle. This might explain the dif­fer­ence in sales between the UK and the US. While plenty of people in the US seem to like the book (i.e. it hasn’t been inter­preted as paro­chi­al), the size of the US Kindle store means that Déjà Vu has nev­er made it onto a chart. It would need con­sid­er­able ini­tial bounce to do so.

I’d strongly advise you to price your book as cheaply as pos­sible. Don’t think about mak­ing money, or at least don’t think about mak­ing very much. Think about get­ting read­ers. They’ll prob­ably remem­ber you when you put your next book out.

I’ve been lucky with mar­ket­ing. That is, the little I’ve done has had a big impact. My piece over at Scott Pack’s blog seemed par­tic­u­larly suc­cess­ful, judging by the com­ments. Ken Macleod is a sci­ence fic­tion author who has giv­en me some much-needed ment­or­ing ever since I sent him a copy of Déjà Vu years ago. Generously, he used the wide read­er­ship of his blog to let read­ers know about the book.

One last thing I did right: Formatting. I’ve read sev­er­al books by tra­di­tion­al pub­lish­ers on my Kindle and not one of them has been without major format­ting glitches and typos. It pays to get these details right. Déjà Vu’s aver­age user rat­ing in both the UK and US is 4.5 of 5 — I’d be will­ing to bet that one star of that is fit and fin­ish. As a self-pub­lished author, I can take the time to get this stuff right. Correct indent­ing and italicisa­tion means a lot more to me that it does to a guy in an office in a tra­di­tion­al pub­lish­ing house. There’s no excuse, either: the moment a typo is spot­ted, a cor­rec­ted ebook can be uploaded to Amazon and be avail­able in two or three work­ing days.

Things I should do better next time

I should have had my oth­er books ready to pub­lish imme­di­ately. Reviewers have com­men­ted that they looked for the next book in the series but couldn’t find it. I guess you could call these lost sales, but I’m sure some of the people will still remem­ber enjoy­ing Déjà Vu when the sequel, Flashback, is released in a couple of weeks.

I’m unde­cided about the price for Flashback. One issue is that I’ve had to pay for a pro­fes­sion­al edit­or, and for the cov­er. (Déjà Vu was edited under its ori­gin­al pub­lish­ing agree­ment, and I cre­ated the cov­er myself using an image I bought.) Yes, this is a dis­ad­vant­age of being a self-pub­lished author, but it’s costs like these that have led pub­lish­ers, in the past, to look at my work and say it’s not worth the both­er.

I think it is worth the both­er. But with these costs, I might increase the list price just enough so that I get the 70% roy­alty option. The price will be $2.99 or £1.70 — with luck, still with­in that ‘impulse buy’ band, but faster to pay off its great­er expense.

Science fic­tion author’ — look­ing like less of a lie these days.

Chewing the Cud

This morn­ing you can find me over at BubbleCow dis­pens­ing some advice on edit­ing. Like the guy on Apocalypse Now said: ‘Get some!’

Some insight is required on your part to answer this ques­tion. It’s some­what akin to ask­ing what kind of clean­ing your house needs if you want to sell it. You need to clean the tiny things like doorknobs (think punc­tu­ation) and you need to make sure your stu­dent ten­ant hasn’t fired a har­poon through the water tank (think minor char­ac­ter chan­ging gender between Chapters Four and Five).

Thoughts on eBooks

Over the past week or so, I’ve being mak­ing rounds to vari­ous blogs. Over at Scott Pack’s place, I’ve been writ­ing about my exper­i­ences of pub­lish­ing Déjà Vu:

So I’m look­ing at this Amanda Hocking head­line. Flecks of tea are mov­ing down the screen of my laptop like the raw Matrix. The half-formed idea in my head — that I can make a book avail­able and I don’t need to have a pub­lish­er — becomes about three-quar­ters formed. My audi­ence is going to be lim­ited to a few mil­lion Kindle cus­tom­ers, but that’s like say­ing my writ­ing is lim­ited by the alpha­bet; it’s enough, and nobody is going to tell me that only Random House can use the ‘Q’.

More of my epic wis­dom can be found over at Futurismic, where Paul Graham Raven has been ask­ing me ques­tions about the pub­lish­ing industry at large. I have no real basis for my appar­ent expert­ise in this area — which is, of course, part of the fun of inter­views.

Various stat­ist­ics have been ban­died about show­ing that while growth in phys­ic­al book sales is slow­ing, growth in ebooks is accel­er­at­ing. As a per­son who owns a Kindle, it’s easy to see why. The buy­ing is imme­di­ate, cheap, and fric­tion­less; the device weighs less than my watch (so I have a heavy watch).

All good fun.