Saturday, May 12, 2007

This Li’l Porker Goes to Market

For years, the idea of self-publishing was anathema to me, all tangled up in my mind with vanity publishing. Serious Writers Don’t Go There, I thought. We are supposed to write our novel and then beg perfect strangers for approval.

But life is too short—and in my family that’s more than a simple cliché. Why waste it chasing after agents and publishers? I decided to make my latest novel, When Pigs Fly, a test case for self-publishing. My friends called my book “the li’l porker,” and it was time to go to market.

Granted, some self-publishing companies give off a bad odor. But research showed that iUniverse has a good combination of quality, reputation and price, so I signed up with them.

For the most part, they’ve done well by me. They have an orderly and businesslike publication process requiring input from the author; in fact, they leave most decisions to the author, the biggest exception being the pricing. For my 300+ page book they selected $18.95. That’s high for a paperback, but apparently not for one printed with print-on-demand (POD) technology.

Is the $18.95 a gating factor for buyers? I think so, but some people are buying it at full price. For a while, Amazon offered it at a 30% discount, but not anymore. iUniverse sells it at full price and always has. I keep a stock in the back of my car for readings I do in the Las Cruces area, and those copies generally go for $15, a price that leaves me a little margin. My goal is not to maximize income, but to maximize readership while recouping the bulk of my expenses.

Before you join me on the self-publishing path, you need to decide on your goals and evaluate companies with those goals in mind. My own goal is to gain a wide readership while earning back my investment. I no longer care about agents or traditional publishing houses, and will almost certainly self-publish any subsequent novels. On the other hand, credibility for my work is important.

Oops. Do "credibility" and "self-publishing" belong in the same paragraph? A lot of people turn up their noses at the whole business as though they were passing a pig sty. Just try to get your book reviewed. Very few people will review your book. Kirkus Discoveries reviewed mine, but I paid them for it. Midwest Book Review specializes in reviewing self-published and small-press books, so they reviewed mine. A couple of other reviews are in the works, and I actively sought out all of them.

Anyway, when my book came out in November 2006 I sent an email to all of my friends and some of my old neighbors and acquaintances. I tried to use a light tone in keeping with that of the book, so I made silly but true statements along the lines of "It'll make you laugh, but won't improve your love life." It was a reasonably effective launch to my most likely market niche, and sales got off to a good start.

Also, I converted my personal website into a platform for promoting WPF, though driving traffic to that site is an ongoing conundrum. An inexpensive Google ad seems to make a small difference.

It's not clear how much help Amazon reviews are for sales, but I solicited friends to post reviews if they liked the book. Right now I have 14 reviews, 12 of which are there because I asked for them. Mind you, not everyone values Amazon reviews, because they are assumed to be biased.

It's hard to gauge my online sales in the short term, as iUniverse reporting lags two months behind (they have to wait for reports from Amazon, etc.). So sales reporting is one area where I'm not completely satisfied with iUniverse.

Selling books directly is quite satisfying. So far, my sales in signing events have averaged five books-modest, but the interaction is fun. The other day I even turned down a sale, because a lady who hadn't heard me read wanted a copy for her 13-year-old granddaughter. I explained about the profanity ("only a little") and adult situations, and we agreed my book was a bad choice for a child. The nice lady was probably thinking it was like Charlotte's Web. But then other customers give me a big smile and say how much they're looking forward to the read, and that personal interaction I'd miss if only bookstores and websites carried the li’l porker.

(The above article appeared in the May 2007 issue of The SouthWest Sage, published by SouthWest Writers.)


Ruth D~ said...

Interesting stuff, Bob, for all who might follow in your self-pub footsteps. Your honesty about the whole process is refreshing. I look forward to more updates.

Loved the pix of the pigs. Cool!


Anonymous said...

It appears that writing was the easy part. Launching harder, maintaining sales frustrating and meeting people. the fun part.