Monday, April 23, 2012

The Downside of Indie Publishing

My last post on my venture in self-publishing ebooks reflected the exhilaration and sense of empowerment the process gave me. Since then I've come down to was a bit of a bumpy landing.
I uploaded my first books in late November and over the next two months, my sales built slowly but surely. In January, with five titles for sale, I sold over 100 books on Amazon. In March, with seven titles available, that figure went down to 80. At Barnes and Noble, the gradual increase was similar, but the decline even steeper. This month, unless things pick up, and despite my doing a free promo, (more on that later) I may sell fewer books than I did in December. Granted, I've done very little to promote my books, but still it's discouraging.
It cost me an average of $250 to put up each book (including scanning, cover art and formatting). In January, I made about $200, which meant I was on pace to earn back my investment and actually start making money in six to eight months. Now I wonder if it won't take a year. And since I intend to put up more books, and incur more costs, who knows when I'll actually turn a profit. Right now, the loss actually helps with our taxes, but that won't always be the case. And until I start making money, I feel like it's barely a step up from vanity publishing.
My sales at Amazon have far out-paced my sales at Barnes and Noble and Smashwords (Smashwords distributes to Itunes, Sony and other ebook outlets), so I decided to enroll one of my poorest selling books in Amazon's KDP Select program. By giving them exclusive distribution for three months, I have the chance to list my ebook as free for five days.
I used two of those free days this weekend, and the results were underwhelming. The book made it to #18 on the free historical romance list and had over 1000 downloads. I sold about 20 copies of my other titles this weekend, which almost doubled my sales for the month, but I'm still not on pace to do as well as I did in January.
It probably goes back to my abysmal promotion efforts/abilities. I hope to get better and do more, but there's a limit to the time I can commit to that and still have time to work on new projects. And since my passion for writing is what got me in to this, having the time to write is pretty important.
The other hard reality I've had to face with self-publishing is that there are some aspects of the process I really suck at (besides promotion).  I'm planning to release one of my self-published ebooks in print. This book is the fourth in a series, and since the other three came out in print (albeit a long time ago), I want this one to also be available in that format. Before I had the book formatted, I had two writer friends read it and look for errors and I proofed it myself several times. We're now in the second phase of proofing the pdf before sending to print and I'm still finding errors! Mostly missing words I somehow missed the first, second, third, etc. time around.
There were enough errors that I paid my formatter to redo the file so I could re-upload it. (More expense.) And this process has taught me that I'm going to have to pay someone for proofreading my original material before I release it, which will double (or more) my costs of releasing every book as an ebook.
I'm beginning to wonder if the thrill of having these books out is going to be worth it. Can I justify continuing with this process?
They say that with every book you put up, you increase your chances of readers finding you. And I'm definitely in this for the long haul. I have another ten books I could potentially e-publish. And that doesn't count the ones that are partially written or that I have in my head. Maybe one of them will grab readers in a way none of these early ones have, and my sales will take off.
I'm an optimist, so we'll go with that.