In the heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town there is a famous alley called Fleshmarket Close. From the top end of Cockburn Street you enter through a granite gateway to be immediately confronted with a dark and shadowy staircase plummeting down in the direction of the train station. For a first-timer it looks dingy and uninhabited, potentially dangerous, but after a few steps down into the gloom you will see a greasy spoon takeaway, a barber shop, and further down the alley’s glacial slope, first one pub, then another. The second pub is called The Halfway House.
Back when I lived in Edinburgh, I used to drink in the Halfway with my brother Ian. It’s one of those hidden gems in the city – a beacon of hospitality in the unlikeliest of places. My abiding memory of the pub (possibly fabricated by my nostalgic subconscious) is on one of those damp, foggy Edinburgh nights, when the haar (a sea-mist unique to Scotland’s east coast) was hanging thick over the city, its tendrils slithering around the buildings. On those haar nights you feel like the city has been untethered from Scotland and is drifting off into the clouds like a cumbersome granite Zeppelin.
On this particular evening Ian and myself were on one of our habitual tours of the traditional pubs, swapping stories and banter in a succession of silent howffs. Drowning in haar, we tumbled into the close and made our way down steps slippery with greasy drizzle, ahead of us the golden glow of the pubs burning through the fog. And through the door into the Halfway, into a gentle hubbub of light and chatter and music, taking seats at the bar from where we could look out the window and watch the haar solidify, tightening its grip on the city.
On my epublishing journey I have reached The Halfway House – 6 months in to my 1-year project. So while I’m safely entrenched at the bar, pint of hoppy IPA in front of me, what are my thoughts before stepping out into the fog again to complete the rest of my journey?
Well, as the brave and lonely few who follow my blog know, I set out to sell 1,000 ebooks of Amsterdam Rampant. With slightly more than 6 months gone, I’ve sold 226. So, while I’m some way off the 500 target for the half-year, there are many reasons to be optimistic.
A couple of months back I added a new indicator to my statistics page – ‘Readers Reached.’ The reason I did this was that I thought again about what I really wanted to achieve and decided that finding readers who liked the book was more important than simply shifting units. While selling my ebook is a great feeling, I’m also delighted if someone out there in cyberspace decides to download Amsterdam Rampant during a freebie promo, or also borrow it via Amazon Prime. So my ‘Readers Reached’ figure basically adds up sales, freebie downloads and borrowed ebooks to come up with a number of how many people have downloaded the ebook. So far 1,235 readers have been reached, and considering that I will run another free promo at some point I will hopefully break the 2,000 figure by the magic 12-month mark.
From a business point of view, I’m so far making a loss of -291 GBP. However, given that my expenses at the outset were 643 GBP, I am making progress in clawing that outlay back, and should be back in the black by the end of the year. Also, I bought two covers with a view to doing a regular switcheroo to see which cover shifted most units.
After publishing with the black and red dangling man cover, it really felt right for the book, and now I’m not sure if I’ll use the blue floating townhouse cover. I love both but I had underestimated that feeling of ‘fit’ that I would get once the project was underway. If I had only bought the first cover, my current loss would be -88.34 GBP. Anyway, while I may incur other expenses (eg. at some point I will try out some marketing services) overall it looks like I will break even for the year, and hopefully even make a small profit.
Away from the financials, I’ve had a total of 19 reviews on Amazon (12 on UK and 7 on dot-com) and 6 reviews/ratings on Goodreads. The engagement with readers has been really encouraging. I benchmark myself against other Scottish novels published in the last year and it seems I am a little ahead of the average in terms of review numbers. It’s another sign for me that self-publishing is an eminently viable option. The supposed advantage of traditional publishing is that you get some kind of marketing machine chugging away in the background, but my impression is that these days most publishers kick a novel out into the wilds to fend for itself. In these austere times most authors are expected to invest a chunk of their time marketing the novel they wrote but that someone else published – why not publish it yourself and own the entire end-to-end process?
Another thing I’ve mentioned before is that liberating feeling of release. Prior to self-publishing I’d been tinkering with Amsterdam Rampant for more than three years, going through multiple versions in the hope of finding the magic formula that would appeal to a publisher. Instead, self-publishing forced me to confront a far more important audience – the faceless mob of unknown readers – and edit it into something that I believed would please readers rather than publishers. It feels like I have finally let go of the novel, unloaded it, and by telling the story I am finally released (much like the ancient mariner in Coleridge’s poem, which takes me clumsily back to the whole fog metaphor).
So now, I gaze out into the haar from my comfortable position at the bar, bracing myself for the next stage of the journey. Six months ago it all seemed quite daunting. Now I know there is nothing to be afraid of. I tip back the dregs of my pint, say a cheery farewell and head back out into the unknown.