In April of 2011, I published my only novel, Déjà Vu to the Kindle store. I was at the end of my tether with the intransigent (for me) traditional publishing industry. I had a story I believed in and nowhere to place it. Finally, I chose the Kindle store, which was the only game in town. Over the next two years, I made enough money to edit, proof and decorate my four remaining books (Flasback, The Amber Rooms, and Proper Job. So my professional writing has sustained itself financially.
One of the great aspects of the Kindle store is the Kindle Select Programme. This allows authors to make books free for a period (five days in every ninety) in return for exclusivity. Even though the percentage of people downloading and, crucially, reading free books is not high, the deal worked out well for me. Off the back of these promotions, my books tended to ride high in the paid chart afterward, and many of the best reviews of Déjà Vu begin with “I downloaded this for free and wasn’t expecting much, but…”
But. The Kindle Select programme isn’t what it used to be. Probably as a result of Amazon moving its focus away from Select (and because the algorithm might suppress older books), the programme is one of diminishing returns. Eventually, the exclusivity isn’t worth it.
At the same time, I’ve been moving towards a more automated way of producing books, as you can see in these posts. I’ve now reached the point where a single text file (the novel, styled using Markdown) can be passed to a program designed to generate validated ebooks (complete with table of contents, about the author, and so on) for Kindle, PDF, and iBooks.
About iBooks. I did use the Smashwords meat-grinder, once upon a time, to publish Déjà Vu in many ebook stores, including the iBookstore. There was one advantage to this and several disadvantages. The advantage: It was free, and that’s great. The disadvantages:
The produced versions looked like crap (inconsistent placement of images; variable line height within body text; even–saints preserve us–failure to indent at the start of chapters).
At the time, the Amazon Kindle store was huge, and even good sales for these others amounted to pennies.
The first disadvantage was the killer for me, though the second might have iced my cake. I delisted the book from Smashwords. This meant that Déjà Vu appeared briefly on iBooks. Enough to pick up a couple of reviews, then disappear.
Déjà Vu is now back on the iBookstore. It looks good. I designed it (and all my other books) from the ground up using Markdown, CSS and Apple’s proofing tools. My precious indenting is correct and the overall impression is much closer to a professional one. I’ve even added my own fleurons.
We’ll see what happens with regards to sales. My suspicion is that they remain quiet because Apple’s sales are driven almost entirely by brand name and exposure on the front page of the site. Amazon, by contrast, is much more aggressive about pushing unknown authors on the basis of matchmaking to the reader’s book history. M’acquaintance Scott Pack, relates his experience of publishing Confessions of a GP on iBooks, which benefitted extremely from front-of-store promotion by Apple. Advertising is the Achilles’ Heel of the independent author; we just don’t have the clout. Everything has to be word of mouth, and the iBookstore isn’t good at amplifying that.
Are you asking yourself: “But, Ian, how can I help you out?” If so, you are very kind. The main difficulty for me is the lack of reviews. Each book starts afresh. (I’m not sure what the iBooks policy is on including Amazon customer reviews in their product descriptions; I might check that out.) But if you’ve read any of my books and feel disposed towards rating them once again on iBooks, I will feel briefly warm and fuzzy.
You can see all my iBookstore books here.