So, the first week is almost over. It’s been great fun so far. I’ve sold 15 ebooks and have received some very nice comments from people I know, including some I haven’t seen this century. Amsterdam Rampant has also had five positive reviews on Amazon (4 on the UK site and 1 on the US).
This process will be a little schizophrenic for me, as I am approaching it with two hats on. Speaking firstly with my writer’s hat on, the best thing about the experience so far has been the contact with readers. At this stage it’s been people I know, as I have only advertised the novel’s availability through Facebook (and a little bit through Twitter). While probably upwards of 30 people had already read the book (writer friends, publishers, Dundee Book Prize judges) this reader feedback was a different experience altogether. The fact that people bought the book and finished it within a couple of days was really exciting for me. I always intended it to be a page-turner and comments have so far backed this up.
It was also great to get that feeling of ‘releasing’ the book. ‘Release’ is an interesting word in this context, because it has two quite separate meanings for me. Firstly, ‘release’ in the traditional book launch sense of the word, of getting the novel out to the paying public. Secondly, I feel a bit ‘released’ from something; there is a liberating feeling of letting go. When my unpublished book was locked up in the traditional publishing model, waiting to pass through the various gates of agent/publisher approval, I always felt somewhat stranded, hanging around, endlessly tinkering with the novel and waiting for the green light from others. I have not written much in the last couple of years, mainly because I was burnt out from the string of rejections (two novels regularly knocked back over a 7-year period) and left with a feeling of ‘what’s the point?’ But what has been great is getting direct feedback from readers who said the things I’d always hoped to hear. People ‘get’ the book. This has been a thrilling experience, because so often the London-based publishers expressed doubts about the appeal of the novel (“Yes, I just can’t see who would buy or enjoy a novel set in Amsterdam packed full of booze, sex, and black humour…”). I realise now I had started to doubt my own book – now I believe in it 100% again, and my energy for writing is returning.
My other hat in this epublishing process is that of an MBA student. When I’m wearing this hat I forget about Neil the writer – in fact, consider him a little embarrassing as he does pretend kung fu routines in the corner of the room every time a sale comes through. One observation as an MBA student was the number of ‘lost sales’ in the first seven days. People contacted me saying they wanted to buy it but didn’t have an e-reader device – when would a print version be available? This made me reflect that based on my own tiny sample the digital revolution in the publishing world is perhaps a little overstated at the moment. While ebook sales now outnumber print book sales in the US, it’s probably driven by a hardcore of converts who buy more ebooks than they would print books, driven perhaps by the super-cheap pricing. I’m certainly familiar with this dynamic – I’ve signed up for the Kindle Daily Deal email and rarely a week goes by when I don’t buy a hugely discounted ebook. Usually it goes something like this:
[Neil clicks on Daily Deal page.] “Yikes! Young Stalin for 20p! 20p. Outrageous, but I can’t buy it as I already have ten books in my Kindle queue.” [Neil goes off to make cup of tea. Stares out of window for 45 seconds.] “Young Stalin. 20p!” [Neil runs back to laptop and clicks BUY].
Probably the best approach to self-publishing is to do a bit of both. A bit of P and a bit of E. A small print run of 200-300 books could probably be sold over the course of a year to friends and friendly strangers – promoted via a launch party, readings, word of mouth etc. While physical books can be pushed on people (eg. free wine at a launch party probably helps loosen the purse strings) it’s harder to do the same with ebooks. But where ebooks do have an advantage is scope and scale. While researching promotion I stumbled across Peggy Blair’s blog and her tales of ebook promo options. Her mention of BookBub caught my eye – a curated website that issues an ebook newsletter to hundreds of thousands of subscribers. If your book passes their quality test then they claim that an outlay of $240 will bring in average sales of 640 ebooks for literary fiction (with the bestsellers shifting around 1,500).
Due to the limited free time I have at the moment, I will continue focusing on publicising the book to people I know, and afterwards I will take the great leap into the unknown and try to promote Amsterdam Rampant to the mysterious faceless public. BookBub is something I will aim for in a month or two.
In the meantime I am focusing on getting Amsterdam Rampant available on the Smashwords platform (which in turn makes the ebook available on the Apple bookstore, Barnes & Noble store, and others). The formatting requirements are slightly different to Amazon, so there’s a bit of grunt work still to be done. In the meantime, feel free to comment below if you have any questions or feedback!