Some Days I Can’t Even…

There is a writer’s forum that I refuse to post on anymore after I watched a discussion of a fairly controversial topic where information was provided from more than one source on a topic most people aren’t well-informed about and then two posters basically said, “I chose not to read that information that was provided but here’s my outdated, uninformed, insensitive opinion on the matter.” I’m simply done with helping people who don’t want to be helped.

But I still drop by and read the posts.

And today…

Oh my.

There was a discussion on there about how a trade published author that someone hadn’t heard of (who has been a highly successful author with two to three trade pub releases per year for the last thirty-plus years and sold at least 20 million copies) must not be very successful because of their Amazon US rank. The individual making this claim said that he was just as successful as this author because their most recent releases were basically ranked the same on Amazon US.

First, I’m not sure what the commenter was comparing, but when I looked at the latest release by the self-pub author and the trade pub author, this is what I saw.

Trade pub author with a rank of 26K for an ebook priced at $13.99.

Self-pub author with a rank of 49K for an ebook priced at $4.99 and in KU.

Let’s just stop right there for a second. Because if a book is in KU and it is borrowed, Amazon gives that book a rank boost equivalent to a sale. Someone can open that book, decide it is pure drivel, return it, and that book will still get the benefit of the rank boost.

So to claim that a book that is ranked purely based on paid sales and a book that is ranked based on paid sales and KU borrows are equivalent in terms of their performance is absurd.

Also, setting aside the borrow issue, look at the price paid for each sale. One is selling at $4.99. One is selling at $13.99. More than double. And I do not believe that the one selling at $4.99 could continue to sell if it were priced at $13.99.

But there’s more.

Because the self-published title in KU doesn’t even have a paperback version. So all sales of that title are happening on Amazon in ebook.

Compare that to the trade pub author who is published in print. And well-established enough and popular enough to be carried in pretty much every single physical bookstore. And in libraries. Something that will not show on an Amazon US ranking.

The number varies widely for different genres and authors, but the most recent estimates I’ve seen thrown around were that print is about 65% of the overall book market.

This is the part that so many indies miss. Because most indies publish POD which comes with higher costs and therefore higher price points, we tend to miss the print market.

I can hit it with my non-fiction but not my fiction. That’s because my $15.95 YA fantasy has to compete with $10.99 YA fantasies or, worse, $7.99 mass market fantasies.

Print is an incredibly big part of the pie and especially in fiction it’s a part of the pie that most indies don’t get.

Sure, some indies make a lot of money. But it’s mostly in ebook or in audio. Dismissing print is like the authors making money in KU dismissing everything else. They’re making good money but it’s in a relatively small section of the overall market that actually exists.

Because indies don’t compete effectively in other portions of the market they forget that those portions of the market exist or they dismiss them as small because their ability to reach that part of the market is so limited that they assume it must be small.

Anyway. Bottom line. Honey, you ain’t anywhere close to touching the level of success of that particular author. But nice try, thanks for playing.

What Does It Cost to Self-Publish A Book

I tend to ignore the conversations where people discuss what’s required to self-publish a book. A few years back someone who’d done very well with self-publishing who I know and like posted a list of everything a new self-publisher should take care of before they publish and I remember staring at that list in horror and thinking I’d never have self-published if I’d thought it required all of that.

I always figure it comes down to a difference in philosophy. I long ago accepted that I will never be perfect and that the level of effort to reach perfection far outweighs any benefit I’ll receive from it. In school being perfect would’ve meant I couldn’t take all the courses I wanted to, play the sports I loved, and do the extracurriculars I enjoyed all at the same time. It seemed oddly limiting to me to spend all that time on one thing so I could get an A+ or up my shooting percentage in basketball when I could get an A- and still start varsity with a lot less effort.

I also long ago learned that arguing with the perfectionists is exhausting and a waste of my time and energy. And in self-pub especially where everyone thinks they can see and judge your performance it’s an even more obnoxious experience. Because, since of course I’m not perfect, if I say, “you can do it for free” then someone will call out my writing or my covers or my blurbs or my book rank.

But here’s the thing: You can do it for free. Or at least close to it. It just takes time.

I’ve published two books so far this year. One non-fiction title in an area of expertise I have. One cozy mystery.

I used GIMP (a free software) to create the covers myself. Will they win awards? No. Do they achieve their purpose? I like to think so.

The non-fiction cover had one stock image, the cozy cover had three. I’m still working through a DepositPhotos package I bought that came with something like 100 images for $50. So, let’s say one cover cost me 50 cents. The other cost me $1.50. And time. It maybe took me an hour, probably less, to create each cover.

(Keep in mind at this point I’ve created well over a hundred covers in GIMP. Probably more than triple that if we start counting paperback covers as separate.)

I also self-edit.

Yes, that means that there are people out there who will read one of my stories and tell me it could’ve been better. But every story can always be better. Every single one ever published. And no story will appeal to all readers. Ever. But the stories I publish are me. They are consistently mine. People may not like what my characters do or what they value or the level of action/emotion/exposition/etc. in my novels, but for those who do like my worldview they know they’ll get a novel that delivers what they like.

I did have three subject matter experts read the non-fiction title to make sure I wasn’t saying anything dramatically controversial but at the end of the day that was my take on a field where I have twenty years of expertise. It was delivered in my voice and with my opinions based on my experience.

And, sure, maybe I could pay a few hundred dollars and have someone find five extra typos, but I don’t think it’s worth the expense. It’s certainly not worth it on the fiction side to find someone who may not know any more about writing than I do to tell me what they think is wrong with my story.

I format my own files as well.

Nowadays I use Vellum for ebooks and for fiction print books. But before I purchased Vellum a well-formatted Word file worked just fine. (Styles are your friend.) I still use Word to format my non-fiction print books using the free template from Amazon. I’m not trying to deliver the most beautifully formatted book out there. I’m just trying to deliver my words in a way that lets the reader absorb them easily and without distraction.

I also upload the files myself.

And write my own blurbs.

(Again, my blurbs may not be the best blurbs that could possibly be written for each book, but they’re mine so they fit perfectly with what someone will actually get when they buy the book.)

Because of all of that I was able to write, prepare, and publish two books for $2.

And my time.

The reason you might pay someone to do these things for you instead is because there’s a learning curve. My first-ever cover was absolutely horrid. I did not know how bad it was. I thought I’d done a good job with it.

But that’s the beauty of self-publishing. A cover can be changed out in a day. It will only live on on Goodreads if you were unfortunate enough for it to make it there. (Which for that book I was not.)

As a new writer I had that time. And really, honestly, if I’d paid for those services back then I would’ve been throwing my money away because I didn’t know enough to judge what I was paying for.

I have no doubt there are “formatters” out there right now charging a couple hundred bucks to run a file through Vellum because there are authors out there who don’t know better and will pay them for that.

Now, of course, in any discussion about this someone will inevitably come along and argue that six-figure authors don’t do it all themselves and give that as proof for why new authors should pay for all of this, too.

But that’s a fallacy.

Because the decision a six-figure author is making is very different from the decision a new author is making.

My most successful title has made me a profit of $725 per hour it took to write. If I knew that every title I wrote would be that successful then I’d be a fool to do everything myself.

Better at that point to pay someone $250 for a cover than spend an hour (which is worth $725) creating my own.

This is why a number of the very successful authors I know pay for editors. Not because they can’t do it well enough themselves, but because that time they’d spend on editing can be better spent writing the next book. They can publish a couple more books a year by using an editor.

They have the ideas and the audience for that to make sense.

But for a new writer? It doesn’t.

The sad truth is that for most new writers that first book will not be a resounding success no matter how much money you spend on it. You can get the best edits, the most beautiful formatting, the perfect cover. You can even spend on blog tours and hire a publicist (which, really, honestly does not make sense for 99% of self-publishers). And you can put thousands into ads and develop a launch strategy and all of that.

But at the end of the day that book will still not sell.

Because most first efforts are simply not that good.

And what they generally do have going for them are the things that extensive inappropriate editing can destroy. (Voice, a unique perspective, etc.)

So remember: You really can publish for free. And if you’re new, that may really be the best choice to make.

Take the time, learn how it’s done. Get that first title out there. See what happens. Rinse. Repeat.

(And if that title does have legs, if you’re one of the rare early successes, then use your profits to buy a prettier cover or some paid ads. Just be sure you know by then what will work for the type of book you published.)

 

First Release of 2020

This is a book I’ve been meaning to write for a couple of years now. I figure it puts a nice pretty bow on the first twenty years of my professional life which revolved around financial services regulation first on the regulatory side and then on the consulting side.

It may be one of those books that doesn’t find its audience, but I hope over time it will come to the attention of the sort of folks who see a title like Regulatory Compliance Fundamentals and think, “Oh that looks interesting.” Because it is if that’s your thing.

It’s short, 102-pages, but packed with knowledge. ($9.95 USD ebook/$19.95 USD print)

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