Books do well when lots of people buy copies, but if they don’t know it exists, how can they buy it? When you self-publish, that’s the part of the process you wish other people would do. Perhaps it’s just me, but it feels a little… off to be doing that for my own work. Of course, you can get other people to trumpet your work – assuming it’s good enough, that is – by sending out review copies, and they’ll spread the word for you. All the same, as a self-publisher, or a compact and bijoux small press (if you like), Whippleshield Books doesn’t have the budget or resources of a traditional imprint.
Adrift on the Sea of Rains has been print now for eighteen months, in signed numbered hardback, paperback and ebook. The hardback sold out within a year. The paperback went to a second printing, and copies are still available. The ebook… well, ebooks are pretty much eternally available. This morning, as another order for a couple of copies of Adrift on the Sea Rains arrived from Amazon, I wondered which sales channels had been most effective at selling the book. So, one spreadsheet later, I ended up with the following…
I was surprised to discover I’d sold more copies through the Whippleshield Books online store than I had Amazon – though, to be fair, the hardback has never been made available through Amazon. I was completely unsurprised to learn I’d sold the most copies at conventions. When you spend the weekend in a hotel with a captive audience, even the most inept sales person (yes, I know; but it’s my actual name, not a nom de métier) can flog copies. It’s probably worth noting that at Odyssey 2012, the Eastercon at which Adrift on the Sea of Rains was launched, the paperback cost less than a pint of beer at the hotel bar…
To date, I’ve not had enough of a catalogue to justify Whippleshield Books taking a table at conventions, so other dealers have often kindly offered to let me put copies on their own. But by the end of next year, Whippleshield Books should have at least five books out, so I’ll probably have to start taking a table in the dealers’ room. Mind you, transporting stock to conventions will be an… interesting exercise, since I don’t have a car. And, rather than just a writer who self-published, which allows me to wear my writer hat pretty much all the time at conventions, I’ll also be a writer and a publisher… Two hats. I’m not sure how’s that going to work out yet.
I’ve not mentioned ebook sales so far because, well, first I don’t have to do anything, it just sits there on Amazon and people download it onto their Kindles. And second, Kindle sales outnumber all others by at least a factor of five. Many best-selling self-published writers have published only on Kindle. I suspect that five years from now, small presses will be publishing ebooks and only tiny print runs of a collectible hardback or paperback edition. Many already are. Personally, I like hard copy books. I like reading them. And I like that I can design them – which I can’t do for an ebook. I chose the typefaces I used in Adrift on the Sea of Rains carefully. The ebook version defaults to the reader’s preferred font, probably Times New Roman.
Of course, ebook-only books present another problem – will conventions start setting up virtual dealers’ rooms? a part of their online presence where attendees – or perhaps anyone – can purchase copies of ebooks sold by dealers who have paid for the privilege (and may not even be present at the con)? And if they’re doing that, then why not stream the panel items as well? Attendees need never leave the bar, just sit there with their tablet, a pint and some friends. They might not even need to physically attend – it could be a distributed convention. Those on panels would have to physically be present, of course. Anyway, that’s another topic for another day…
October 11, 2013 at 10:37 am
Interesting article. I’m one of the lucky ones having bought the hardback… AND the ebook.
October 11, 2013 at 11:06 am
Well, yes, but it’s not a bed of roses in the professional publishing world either. ‘The Lost Railway’ had, by the beginning of September, sold some 500 copies out of a print run of 2000 in eight weeks based on national distribution – copies ordered by specialist booksellers across the country 9and some out of region give that the book concentrated on the Midlands), and at least one copy in each Waterstones in the region, plus copies sold on Amazon and via the publisher’s own website.
The publisher regarded this sales level as “disappointing” and have set out that if we can’t move 1000 copies by Xmas, there most likely won’t be another book commissioned. So I’m trying to do some promotional work myself, pushing copies to local papers that didn’t get their own review copies, and setting up signing sessions. The prospect of taking a table at railway events is something I want to do, but the cost is a concern when you’re trying to juggle short-term contracts, everyday outgoings and (usually) having to pay the same commercial rates as big traders.
There has been very little input from the publisher beyond sending out review copies and getting a catalogue listing; then again, my book is just one title out of ten or fifteen published in a quarter, and I’m a new author without a track record. It’s rather a chicken-and-egg situation, but I’m having to do as much as you are despite having a big publisher behind me.
October 11, 2013 at 12:04 pm
Clearly, conventions are the Answer here.
(Sorry, I just had to.)