According to the Washington Post there’s an “e-book goldrush” taking place. http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/novel-rejected-theres-an-e-book-gold-rush/2011/04/09/AFZdqb9F_story.html Much to my surprise, I find I’m one of the prospecting authors who’s found gold.
You probably won’t have heard of me, but I’m a respectably-selling, award-winning, mid-list author of contemporary women’s fiction. Three years ago I was dropped by my publisher. “Disappointing sales” was the reason given. I was in good company. A lot of mid-list authors were dropped as the recession bit deep. Editors wanted début novels, genre fiction and books by celebrities – all of which are easier to promote than “the latest rattling good yarn by X”. (That sort of marketing can only used when the author in question sells in Grisham and Picoult quantities.)
After two years of my agent’s best efforts, we still hadn’t found a publisher for my fourth novel, HOUSE OF SILENCE. http://www.amazon.co.uk/HOUSE-OF-SILENCE-ebook/dp/B004USSPN2/ref=pd_sim_kinc_2 Many editors liked the book, but said it would be hard to market as it belonged to no clear genre. They had a point. HOUSE OF SILENCE is a country house mystery/family drama/gothic rom-com/love story. Or to put it another way, COLD COMFORT FARM meets REBECCA.
It was so frustrating. I had a considerable following and my loyal fans had been asking for a new novel for three years. While looking for a new publisher, I kept myself in the public eye by chatting on book forums, writing guest blogs and setting up an author page on Facebook. I was preparing for a miracle. But even though I had a ready-made market for my new novel, no one wanted to publish it.
Then came the e-book revolution. Self-publishing on Kindle was the answer to a disgruntled author’s prayer. I wasn’t desperate to see my name on a paper book cover or on a shelf in Waterstones. (Been there, done that and the T-shirt had shrunk in the wash.) I didn’t even care if I made money, as long as I broke even. No, this was about letting a book find its readers, who I felt sure would love my complex plot and quirky characters as much as I did.
My agent took some persuading, but eventually I published HOUSE OF SILENCE myself as a Kindle e-book. It sells for £1.90/$2.99 and believe it or not, even at that price I make more per download than I did from my paperbacks. Readers think authors are giving e-books away at humiliatingly low prices, or they suspect books that cheap can’t possibly be any good, but the appalling irony is, authors are making more money e-publishing – much more! When one of my £7.99 paperbacks sold in Waterstones, I used to get about 50p, much less if it sold on Amazon. Selling HOUSE OF SILENCE as a Kindle e-book, I get a 70% royalty.
This is why some established authors are moving away from mainstream to e-publishing, like disenchanted US author Barry Eisler http://www.thedailybeast.com/blogs-and-stories/2011-03-24/barry-eisler-explains-self-publishing-decision/# who turned down a $500,000 book deal to self-publish his next thriller as an e-book. Eisler believes he can make more money in the long term by e-publishing, but he also wanted artistic control.
I sympathise. Total artistic control of HOUSE OF SILENCE has been a heady experience for me. Two out of three of my previous novels were, in my opinion, sunk by unappealing covers, so this time I paid a professional designer to produce a cover to my specifications. No headless women. No supermodel legs. No illegible fonts. Just a cover that made a clear statement about the content of the book. (A spooky old country house under a lowering sky. An oldie, but a goodie.) Because I’d lashed out on a professional cover, I needed to sell 100 copies to make a profit. I hoped to sell 10 copies a month, maybe 10 a week if the book really took off.
I went into profit on Day 2. Then I sold 10,000 downloads in less than four months. (No publisher could guarantee the sale of 10,000 copies of any book by an unknown like me.) Amazon acknowledged my success at the end of last year when they selected it as an Editor’s Pick Best of 2011 in the Indie Author category. I’ve now sold 18,000 and it’s looking as if I’ll sell 20,000 downloads of HOUSE OF SILENCE in its first year.
So what did I do right? And could anyone do it?
It certainly isn’t difficult to e-publish. You only have to look at a few sample chapters on Amazon to realise that publishing an e-book is a lot simpler than writing one. There’s no denying there’s a lot of dross out there, but it’s not difficult to make sure your e-book shines like a good deed in a naughty world, provided it’s well written, properly edited and has a quality cover (which must work as a thumbnail.)
Pricing indie e-books is tricky. Despite the “2 for £5” depredations of supermarkets, some traditional readers are suspicious of cheap books, but indie e-book authors have to compete with a lot of free books and they’re not all unpunctuated porn. Some are by Dickens, the Brontës and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Many Amazon e-book reviews refer to price/value for money and some e-book readers are feeding a book-a-day habit. Asking them to pay £2.99 is asking quite a lot.
So I’m happy to clear £1 from an e-book sale. That’s more than Amazon’s share. My paperbacks used to make much more money for the retailer and publisher than they made for me, so Kindle seems like a good deal to me.
So to my surprise, the much-rejected HOUSE OF SILENCE has been a great success. Who knows why a book succeeds, but my cover, price and synopsis must have played their part. Readers told me the “blurb” ticked a lot of boxes. Some said they bought HoS on the strength of the “COLD COMFORT FARM meets REBECCA” tag line. (So much for “unmarketable”.)
My case wasn’t typical. I already had a modest following. I knew my readers and knew what they liked. I thought they’d like HOUSE OF SILENCE and I knew how to market it. The novel’s odd mix of genres didn’t mean it was uncommercial, simply that it was tricky to market. But with an e-book, the author markets directly to readers, who just want a good story. Publishers have to market to retailers who have completely different criteria based on unrealistic sales expectations and an often misplaced faith in famous names.
My healthy e-book sales are the culmination of six years’ interaction with readers on the internet. Since I was first published, I’ve engaged in blog and forum discussions, I’ve been conscientious about keeping in touch with readers and frank about my publishing difficulties. I’ve used my Facebook author page and website www.lindagillard.co.uk to keep fans informed. It all paid off. On e-publication day, we had an impromptu launch party for HOUSE OF SILENCE on Facebook. My lovely, loyal readers bought the book, Tweeted and blogged, so it was selling in a matter of hours.
I’ve since e-published two out-of-print backlist novels, EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY http://www.amazon.co.uk/EMOTIONAL-GEOLOGY-ebook/dp/B0055T357G/ref=pd_sim_kinc_2 and A LIFETIME BURNING http://www.amazon.co.uk/A-LIFETIME-BURNING-ebook/dp/B006VOL2WE/ref=pd_sim_kinc_1 and another new one, UNTYING THE KNOT http://www.amazon.co.uk/UNTYING-THE-KNOT-ebook/dp/B005JTAMQO/ref=pd_sim_kinc_3 . They’re all selling well, so it’s hard to see why I would go back to traditional publishing now, apart from an emotional attachment to paper books. (My agent thought we’d need a hard copy to secure foreign sales, but we’ve already sold translation rights to two indie e-books.)
UNTYING THE KNOT got the same response from editors as HOUSE OF SILENCE: they loved the book, but because of the genre mix, thought it would be tough to market. Tough for them maybe, but not for me. I listen to my readers. I am a reader. We share a passion for intelligent, well-written stories about believable, fascinating characters. It’s a genre that never goes out of fashion – and if that’s hard to market, then there’s something seriously wrong with print publishers.
If you ask me, they’ve lost the plot.
What do you think?
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