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Old 01-28-2013, 08:54 PM   #1
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I'm Doing Something Wrong

This fall, after three and a half years of publishing romance with various e-publishers, I self-published for the first time. It's an M/M romance short story, and reviews have been sparse and variable. (1-4 stars.)

I see other authors in various venues bemoaning the fact that their self-pubbed romances are only selling 10-15 copies *per day*. I would love to have those numbers! Since its release mid-September, my book has only sold a grand total of 38 copies over Amazon, All Romance Ebooks, and Barnes & Noble. (It isn't on Smashwords because Smashwords won't let me start an account; my first publisher set up a Smashwords account in my name, to which only they had access, and even though my books with them have been out of print for two years, their account in my name still exists.)

Promotion isn't my strong point. I'm aware of this. But I've publicized this book through all the venues where I promote my publisher-published romances (which admittedly don't sell well either), I've submitted it for review, and it's on Goodreads. I did have several hundred downloads total when I ran free days through KDP Select, but only two of those netted reviews/ratings on Amazon or Goodreads, and both of those were from people who didn't like the book. I've had a few readers contact me to say they loved it, but they apparently aren't inclined to rate/review it.

So in addition to doing a lot more reading in this part of the boards to learn more about this stuff, and writing and self-pubbing another book to get more interest (which I can't afford to do until I earn back what I spent on editing and cover art for the first one, which looks as though it may never happen), what should I be doing to try to boost sales? Or should I just chalk it up as a failed experiment and crawl back into my publisher-published cave?
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Old 01-28-2013, 09:10 PM   #2
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I think your results are normal. You noted that your publisher-published books didn't fair a lot better than your self-published title, I wonder if marketing is the issue or cover art or book descriptions? There are many variables, it's hard to pinpoint just one and say, "Aha! That's the reason."
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Old 01-28-2013, 09:17 PM   #3
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It depends on what you want.

If you can get back with the publisher, you'd probably see the numbers you want in terms of sales. Because publishers promote where you can't.

The best thing you could do is publish another book. If editing and cover art are eating your lunch, see if you can release something short and small and use that to boost sales of the larger work. Short stories can be really effective with KDP Select if they are good. You might be able to edit a short into shape with a couple of good beta readers. IDK how to get around artwork costs, but you might want to shop around or, if it's an option, see about doing it yourself.

Really, that's the only advice I can offer right now. Taken individually, my books aren't doing *that* much better--in most cases, it's worse. But the only thing that I've found that works is to put out another book, and then put out another book, and then put out ANOTHER book, and then take a step back, figure out which books are selling better, and put out more books like that.

This is a lot of work, in other words, and it probably isn't going to get easy anytime soon.
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Old 01-28-2013, 09:31 PM   #4
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If you are anywhere in the romance area, the readers tend to be publisher loyal. So sales will be lower for a book outside of a publisher until/unless you build your self-publishing profile.
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Old 01-28-2013, 09:36 PM   #5
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Merrihiatt, yeah, I don't know what the issue is. I don't think I'm a crappy writer; my books get good reviews when they get reviewed. I know I stink at promoting myself, and that's something I'm working on improving. I have a LOT of books out from various publishers, and some sell and some don't.

Christwriter, thanks for all the great advice. This was a short story; it's 99 cents, about 11,000 words. (I started it at 1.99 and dropped the price after a few weeks on advice from a friend who's done a lot of self-pubbing.) I'm still with my publishers; I have three books scheduled for release from publishers over the next three months. The self-publishing wasn't an attempt to get out of the publishers, it was an attempt to augment my income. (Failed on that count...)

The editing and cover art combined for the book I've done cost under $150, so not a huge expense, but I'm on a very limited budget and if I don't earn from my writing, I have nothing to spend on my writing. I do have two stories which are potentially ready for "prime time" with a bit of polishing, but they would definitely need professional cover art. (I'm crap with technology; I've tried making book covers, and I think my six-year-old niece could do better. Even my 17-year-old, who does "edits" of images for people online and is great with Photo Shop, wasn't able to figure out how to make a book cover that looked right.) I might be able to find a couple of beta readers willing to help for free or for credit in the book; I'm more comfortable using a professional editor, though.

At least I don't have to pay for formatting; hubby spent an entire afternoon teaching himself how to do it so I wouldn't have to pay for that as well.
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Old 01-28-2013, 09:36 PM   #6
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Veinglory, that makes sense. Some of my readers followed me from my publishers to the self-pubbed book, but they are more likely to look for MLR Press or Dreamspinner than Karenna Colcroft at this point...
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Old 01-28-2013, 10:39 PM   #7
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Do you know of any m/m romances that are pulling big numbers? I'm not trying to be snarky; that's an honest question. I would guess that m/m would do much lower numbers than "typical" m/f romance, but I don't know that.

And you said that your published romances do about the same numbers as this, so...

I suggest you do what the really successful romance self-pubbed authors I have read about do: 1)create a mailing list where interested readers can sign up to find out when you publish something new, 2)only use the mailing list when you publish something new, and 3)publish something new frequently.

I bet you start seeing your initial pub numbers go up.
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Old 01-29-2013, 12:14 AM   #8
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Actually, from what I've heard, M/M sells better than M/F. That isn't why I write it, but the numbers are definitely there. Of my own titles, I have one M/M that's outsold all of my M/F romances combined. (I have somewhere around 20 M/F titles published.) My published romances that sell poorly are all M/F. The M/M ones do much better.

Thanks for the suggestions. I have a newsletter which goes out monthly where I update my readers on what I have coming out that month. If you count my publisher-published books, I do have something new coming out frequently; I have a new release nearly every month. If you're talking about releasing something self-published frequently, as I mentioned earlier, I can't afford to self-publish more stories until I earn back what I put into this one.
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Old 01-29-2013, 12:25 AM   #9
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If I have the book right (Playing God), I think one of your reviews is really hurting you as it's really harsh despite being 3 stars. Other things I see are that I don't have a sense from the blurb of a heat level or what kind of a romance it is.
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Old 01-29-2013, 12:31 AM   #10
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Katie, yeah, I know that review is killing me. That's why I've tried getting other reviews on Amazon, but that one keeps showing up at the top. (And a couple other reviewers on Goodreads agreed with it.) That is a good suggestion about adding heat level and the type of romance. Thank you. I'll tweak that later (about to take my kid to an appointment.)
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Old 01-29-2013, 01:45 AM   #11
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I am not published, commercial or self, but what I have learned over the years from these and other boards, is that it takes time for a writer to establish a following. Especially in self publishing. Why especially self publishing? Because the competition is much greater than commercial publishing for readers.
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Old 01-29-2013, 02:25 AM   #12
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Thothguard, that makes sense. I've been published in erotic romance since 2009 and have a following in that genre, but it may be that I need more of a self-published backlist to build a following for my self-published stuff.
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Old 01-29-2013, 02:58 AM   #13
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Jo, how I wish I was selling 10-15 copies a day of my work. Whenever I release something, I get about five immediate sales -- and then things just crawl along.

Good or bad, at least you're getting reviews. With luck, that will help build your sales in time.
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Old 01-29-2013, 03:28 AM   #14
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Thanks, Anne. At this point, I'd be happy if I got 10-15 sales a week... or even 10-15 a month.
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Old 01-29-2013, 05:14 AM   #15
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My advice? Keep writing more titles, and don't pay attention to daily sales. It will take time to build an audience, and sales will grow over time. Concentrating on your sales (or the lack thereof) is a good way to get discouraged from what you need to do (writing more titles), something I've learned from experience.
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Old 01-29-2013, 06:49 AM   #16
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Thanks, Anne. At this point, I'd be happy if I got 10-15 sales a week... or even 10-15 a month.
It can be really hit or miss with short fiction. Erotica (not sure if yours gets that steamy) tends to be a strong genre but lots of people average 1-5 a month with short fiction in general. I think the 10-15 a day people are real outliers. You tend to need a number of stories available to find a hit and allow cross-promotion to work in your favor.

Given that, I think if you want to continue down this path you might want to budget a bit differently for short fiction covers (lower price even if it means sacrificing some quality) so you don't have such a deep hole to climb out of, and prices are trending higher for the novelette lengths--lots of the more successful (in context) short fiction writers are going to $2.99 where erotica has already been sucessful.
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Old 01-29-2013, 04:36 PM   #17
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Aston, good advice. I have a huge backlist of erotic romance, but none of it's self-published, and I'm getting the sense that to build a following for self-pubbed books, you have to have more self-pubbed books, not just books in general. Writing more titles to self-pub is a bit of a problem because I'm still writing for at least half a dozen publishers as well, and I have projects committed to them which have to take priority over things I intend to self-publish since in some cases, the projects for publishers already have tentative slots in their release schedules. But over time, I should be able to sort that out. I do have two or three works that are nearly ready for "prime time", but two of them are approximately the same length as this one (and one of those is hetero romance, not M/M), and the third one isn't a romance, it's a paranormal with romantic elements, and the romance in that one is also hetero.

Some of the problem--and the reason I get hung up on sales numbers--is because my writing is my primary income. I'm disabled; my father-in-law pays me to sit in his office for ten hours a week occasionally doing work for him but more often writing because I need to work ten hours a week to keep my health insurance. But that isn't much pay and I'm not able to work any other job (my doctors have told me not to), so I need the income from my writing to help keep the household bills paid. And to assuage my guilt for the fact that my husband is supporting me and my kids.

J. Tanner, I consider my stuff erotic romance; the focus is on the romance, but the sex scenes are quite explicit. the cover artist I used is one who works with several of my publishers, and she's a personal friend, which is why I chose her. Her prices are reasonable from what I've found, and much lower than many; the bulk of the combined price I quoted above was for the editing. I originally priced this one story at $1.99, but was advised by several self-pubbed authors to drop it to 99 cents because $1.99 was "too much" for an 11,000 word story. (I've had a few people tell me even 99 cents is too high a price...)
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Old 01-29-2013, 04:51 PM   #18
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According to Smashword's Mark Coker, $1.99 ends up as a dead zone, with profits lower on average than either .99 or 2.99.

I don't know that it matters how you're published in building a following. It's mostly bought/also bought and that sort of thing.
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Old 01-29-2013, 05:07 PM   #19
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Katie, yeah, I think that's part of why I was advised to change my price from 1.99 to 99 cents.

I wouldn't think it would matter, but it seems to. Over and over, I hear the advice, "Build a backlist and your sales will improve"... I have 30-something titles available for sale, plus two that are now out of print, so at this point I have to assume that either that advice doesn't apply to everyone or the backlist needs to be focused by publisher or something. (Or maybe I just suck, but I don't think that's it. LOL)
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Old 01-29-2013, 08:40 PM   #20
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I don't see why the publisher would matter all that much for ebooks if they're all in the same genre with the same pen name. I'd expect readers who liked your work to be turning them all up. One minor difference would be your trade books wouldn't be pushing the self-pub story in the back of the book where you could do that across all (potential) self pub material. I wouldn't expect that to be a significant barrier.

On pricing, the nice thing is you'll be able to experiment. Give it at least a month at a price point and some suggest more like two or three. I've seen other erotic romance authors supporting a $2.99 price point for novelettes and that means 1 sale is equivalent to 6 sales at 99 cents. It can improve the bottom line if it doesn't completely stop your sales in their tracks (and the only way to know how it will impact your book is to give it a try.)

Editing on short fiction is a tough one. Everyone's needs and resources available are different. I'm lucky to have access to writing friends who help there, and then primarily republish shorts that have been published/edited by magazine editors already so I'm getting by without paying. If that editing is a necessity, then I wouldn't advise skipping it, but it might mean that you're better off sticking with your niche publishers given your financial situation and the apparent consistency with which you can sell to them.
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Old 01-29-2013, 08:49 PM   #21
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J. Tanner, as Veinglory said above, readers sometimes go for the publisher's name rather than the author's. I have fans who will only buy my books from one of my publishers because they just plain refuse to buy from the others, even though they like my books. They know what type of product they're getting from that one, and what the quality is like, and given that they have only a finite amount of money to spend on books they would rather stick to what they know is good than take a chance on something that might be poorer quality or not quite the type of thing they like to read.

I have rights back on one short that was previously published, but it wasn't thoroughly edited, so it would need re-editing anyway. I have writing friends, but it's been difficult for me to find anyone consistently willing/with the time to beta read/critique for me, and I've been burned by a couple of beta readers who took my manuscript, never contacted me again, and never answered my emails after that. I'm more inclined to stretch my budget to pay for professional editing than to take a chance on being burned, or on encountering someone who "corrects" things that aren't wrong or who just says "Oh, this is good, well done" and offers no suggestions at all, both of which have also happened to me more than once.
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Old 01-29-2013, 10:28 PM   #22
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My advice?

Raise your price to $2.99 and forget about it.

It's always like playing Russian roulette with any book, no matter who publishes it. I imagine your sales will remain about the same at $2.99, plus you can get away with higher prices for less in erotic romance. But if you'd gotten $2 for every sale thus far, you'd have made $76, which is much closer to making back your $150.

Things could turn around tomorrow. They might not. Good luck!

(Who are these people who complain about only selling 10 copies a day? Do they only have one book? Is it priced at $.99? Do they have like a zillion children? Do they live in California? I need three books selling 10 copies a day to pay my bills. When I've got books selling that well, I'm breathing a sigh of relief.)
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Old 01-29-2013, 10:45 PM   #23
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Thanks, Valerie. The people I've seen selling those levels have been self-pubbing for a lot longer than I have and publish full-length romances that fit certain categories, so I'm sure they have a lot more of a following than I do.
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Old 01-30-2013, 12:28 AM   #24
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Novels are a whole different story from shorter works. They're much more popular.

Your editing situation is not unusual. Finding the right combination at a viable price for your level of sales (or prospective sales) can be tricky.

There are certainly readers in niche genres who will mostly stick with a particular publisher they like. There's nothing you can do about it though--that particular readers are no longer your audience for your self-pub material. The good news is I think they're a pretty small minority.

From following lots of self-pub authors the most effective way I've seen to find your audience is to keep publishing new material, but that could be a challenge for you given your financial situation and your estimated editing cost per story.
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Old 01-30-2013, 12:48 AM   #25
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J. Tanner, thanks. That's one thing I'm hearing a lot, that I'd be better off doing a novel, or at least a novella. (Novellas sometimes work in romance/erotic romance, which is my category.) And I know I need to put out more, but the time and cost are a factor in that.
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