Self-publishing stats update

I'm just starting to get acquainted with the latest version, but the release of Scrivener 3.0 reminds me to give an update here.

Definitely still a great tool which I love and highly recommend. I use it for non-fiction, at lengths from 200 words to entire books, and fiction. I use it for my daily journaling. I use it as a D&D gamemaster. 

I've used Scrivener for seven years now. Two of the books I wrote using it have been successfully self-published (and sold thousands of copies each, thanks!) in both print and ebook form, with one of the titles nominated for a major award in its subject area. 

 

Back in 2012 I wrote about how I created Discardia: More Life, Less Stuff and in 2013, while working on The Art of the Shim: Low-Alcohol Cocktails to Keep You Level, I added more thoughts on self-publishing.

Here are how the statistics have changed since Discardia's first 16 months:

  • Kindle sales have become an even bigger percentage of revenue, growing from 34% to 65%.
  • iTunes sales have dropped from 16% to 9.5% of revenue. Apple's never treated their shopping experience for books with any seriousness and the bad browsing experience seems is likely a big factor in inferior sales.
  • Physical book sales are only 11.6% by copies sold, but 23.6% by revenue. Createspace represents 20.5% of that.

I need to go back and locate my pre-2013 detailed data before I draw any conclusions about which platforms I wouldn't bother with on subsequent books, but I can say that Amazon is and will remain the core of my self-publishing channels.

 

The Art of the Shim: Low-Alcohol Cocktails to Keep You Level came out in fall 2013 and I have the full stats for it. It's a beautiful hardcover with high-quality photos, so the breakdown is radically different.

  • Physical sales are 66% of the copies sold, but represent 93% of the revenue. 
  • Ebook sales revenue is 6-to-1 Kindle to iTunes.
  • 44% of physical sales revenue has been through Amazon.com (I use Amazon Advantage to stock them) and 20.5% were through Ingram (before they killed their small publisher program in mid-2016).
  • Small retailers—not only bookshops but specialty retailers with cocktail items—represent just over 15% of revenue.
  • In-person sales—"handselling" and events—represent almost 13% of revenue.

 

As business projects, not including any of the costs of our labor or of the business generally, Discardia is well into the black and Shim is still a loss. The rate of catching up from that loss is getting better since we stopped having to pay for a storage unit to hold all the inventory. The good news is we're finally also getting a lot closer to not having every corner of our apartment full of cases of the book. 😉 Would we self-publish a physical book again? Probably not, but boy are we glad we did this one!

Laments of the death of old-school blogging are missing something

Kevin Drum's piece "Blogging Isn't Dead. But Old-School Blogging Is Definitely Dying" is not without some truth, but overlooks key things. Most importantly, that when old-school blogging was in its full flower, text was the only easy way to share yourself online. Now it's almost as easy to create and distribute art or audio or video or combinations of those as it was to submit a long post in the Blogger submission page. We have a great diversity of expression happening, particularly in video.

Beyond which now, with a good computing device in everyone's pocket, it's no longer necessary to save everything up into one chunk you laboriously craft over a long evening at home. The conversation truly can be dialogue, with reactions and riffs taking place within minutes or even seconds. Yes, Twitter and other easy technologies for portable sharing of ideas and images are sometimes knee-jerk, but heaven knows so have the comments under blog posts always been. Nor has >140 characters ever been an unusual length.

One of the strengths of new-school sharing is that it allows conversations to easily extend and expand not only over a growing audience but also over time. Yes, we had follow-up posts back then—and that inter-blog dialogue was always a joy—but it was hard to find and even harder to maintain momentum. Now, between Twitter and, to my mind the best combination of the old and the new, Medium, it's possible to more easily find the pieces of reaction which wander around the web, rebounding from and influencing each other.

I started blogging before the word was coined and have never stopped, but—like many—my means of output have expanded as opportunity grew. Wordy posts pour out of us when words are all we have, but we have so much more we can do now, and more ways to use our words. Since Flickr and Twitter and Medium and the opportunity to take my long-form work into finished books through self-publishing, I write fewer blog posts, but I am even more creative and connected through the web than I was back in the day.

Old-school blogging isn't dead, it's growing up, and growing up beautifully into something new.

Watching my author rank, but not too closely

Not sure I ever got a screen shot or noted my Amazon author rank numbers during my first year as a published author, but before it rolls off the chart, here's my second and much of my third:

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It fluctuates a lot—do not base your self esteem on this number—but it's clear that having two books out helps a lot. It'll be very interesting to see what happens when I add a third to the mix, which I hope to do next year.

I suspect that the few dramatic drops in 2014 (one of which was on my birthday, which I find rather uncivil) relate not so much to my books' performance, but rather to dramatically good performance of one or more other books in their category. That July downturn correlates well to a lot of social media chatter, for instance, about Jeffrey Morgenthaler's Bar Book, and I'm guessing many purchases of that excellent tome.

How to Avoid Setting Yourself Up for Ebook Disappointment

Some lessons drawn from the how-not-to-do-it example in Tony Horwitz's New York Times op-ed, "I Was a Digital Best Seller!"

  • If you've had a negative digital publishing experience, talk to a wider range of those who've published in digital format before concluding that your experience represents "a cautionary farce about the new media and technology we’re so often told is the bright shining future for writers and readers." It's possible that the farce wasn't entirely about the platform, but also your use of it.
  • Ensure when you're contracting with a publisher that the expenses they've said they'll cover are covered as you go and that you are contractually well-protected should they not publish the piece as originally planned.
  • Also budget your own expenses and degree of risk and, with those and what you've agreed on with the publisher, stay within the boundaries.
  • Use potential future income as motivation to complete the contracted work, but by no means assume that that compensation will actually come to you. This holds true also for dreams of glorious enhancement of your reputation. Bear in mind, also, as expected sales figures get tossed about that the typical non-fiction physical book sells less than 3000 copies. Be excited about potential upsides, but be realistic—and don't count on them.
  • Once again, ensure your contracts exist and that contingencies are in place which will incentivize the publisher to honor their deal with you and, ideally, publish and pay, or at least pay an exit amount and revert rights to the work to you.
  • If you aren't great at the contractual/financial sides of the business, make sure to involve professionals who are on your side, and preferably with whom you have a long history of working together. They, like you, should be taking the long view of building your success and security. They, like you, should not assume that a single project will guarantee that success or security.
  • Get realistic estimates of potential sales and income not only from the digital publisher who wants you to do work for them, but from others with experience in that industry and with that publisher. Get an understanding of how volitile sales indicators (such as Amazon Kindle best sellers) are and what kind of total sales they represent. It's important to know what kind of sales spike can shoot you to the top of a list and how those spikes relate to aggregate sales of the work over time. Do not assume any understanding you may have of physical book sales indications will translate to these new areas.
  • Do not assume your publisher—digital or traditional—will put in the effort to bring readers and buyers to your work. Get a clear picture of what they will be doing to attract readers to your piece specifically. Above and beyond their planned effort (which like the potential returns must be taken with a grain of salt), you need to prepare to promote the work yourself.
  • Before you take on a project, research and understand the audience(s) for it. What do they like? What formats will they pay for? How much will they pay? Use this as a reality check for the proposed compensation and expenses for the project.
  • Before you take on a project, get a basic plan outlined of how you will reach those audiences. How do they learn about new works of interest to them? Whose recommendations do they trust? What communities do they participate in, and are you excited about participating in those communities too as you promote the work?
  • If your past experience is with traditional publishing only, talk to a variety of authors who've had both success and failure with digital publishing. You should pay particular attention to their experiences with promotion, both what they did and what their publishers did, as well as to what worked and what did not.
  • Thanks to frequently poor online browsing setups for ebooks—yes, iTunes Store, I am looking at you especially—random discovery of your work will be one of the least common ways for a reader to find it. People aren't generally poking around the shelves the way they do in physical bookstores. It's word of mouth and reviews on which you need to focus.
  • Plan to prime the pump for those reviews by building enthusiasm for the piece through your own professional social network. (You have been building a Twitter following around your past work, yes? And you don't have that all muddled up with your personal tweeting, right? Ditto for your professional blog or regular community participation in your areas of expertise.) Thank your readers and encourage them (without being pushy) to review the work or spread the word about it.
  • Work with the publisher to ensure that review copies will be sent out as quickly as possible, including—if you'll be releasing a physical version of the work as well as ebook—a giveaway through Goodreads.
  • Do not assume that enthusiastic readers, the kind who'll recommend your work repeatedly, will be fooled by fake glowing reviews written by publicists or pals of the author. Build enthusiasm in those whose opinions would be trusted and whom you can expect to engage with the work in detail, writing a review that is clearly by someone who cares about the topic.
  • Ensure that you have a contracted and reliable way to get copies of the work for yourself to use in direct sales (for example, at speaking engagements) and as another means to get review copies in the right hands.
  • Once again, make sure that your rights to the work are very clearly spelled out in your contract and that there is a clear path for any rights the publisher has to revert to you under conditions of them ceasing to publish the work.
  • Bottom line: Know the kind of writing you want to do, the hats you're willing to wear in the course of getting it in the hands of readers, and the realistic market for compensation for that writing with different kinds of publishers and (important and different!) through self-publishing.

    Writing is a tough job to make pay; don't enter into the profession with just a dream and crossed fingers.

Incredibly proud to be on this list!

"At the beginning of 2012 we published a list of the top 20 cocktail books ever published. After two more years of reviewing books we think there are another ten books which deserve to be added to this list. These 'must-haves' will not only teach you the art of bartending but give you recipes to be inspired by and new movements that we think will drive forward the craft. We also welcome our first female authors to this list. They're listed in alphabetical order."

Diffords Guide: "Update: 30 cocktail books you need on your shelves"

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A link, via Clay Shirky, serves as a reminder to me to explore poetry more often

 

Reading an Anthology of Chinese Poems of the Sung Dynasty, I Pause To Admire the Length and Clarity of Their Titles

by Billy Collins

It seems these poets have nothing
up their ample sleeves
they turn over so many cards so early,
telling us before the first line
whether it is wet or dry,
night or day, the season the man is standing in,
even how much he has had to drink.

Maybe it is autumn and he is looking at a sparrow.
Maybe it is snowing on a town with a beautiful name.

"Viewing Peonies at the Temple of Good Fortune
on a Cloudy Afternoon" is one of Sun Tung Po's.
"Dipping Water from the River and Simmering Tea"
is another one, or just
"On a Boat, Awake at Night."

And Lu Yu takes the simple rice cake with
"In a Boat on a Summer Evening
I Heard the Cry of a Waterbird.
It Was Very Sad and Seemed To Be Saying
My Woman Is Cruel—Moved, I Wrote This Poem."

There is no iron turnstile to push against here
as with headings like "Vortex on a String,"
"The Horn of Neurosis," or whatever.
No confusingly inscribed welcome mat to puzzle over.

Instead, "I Walk Out on a Summer Morning
to the Sound of Birds and a Waterfall"
is a beaded curtain brushing over my shoulders.

And "Ten Days of Spring Rain Have Kept Me Indoors"
is a servant who shows me into the room
where a poet with a thin beard
is sitting on a mat with a jug of wine
whispering something about clouds and cold wind,
about sickness and the loss of friends.

How easy he has made it for me to enter here,
to sit down in a corner,
cross my legs like his, and listen.

Source: Poetry (June 1999). [Via Poetryfoundation.org]