Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Self Publishing: Lessons One Month In

 It's a little over a months since Unstable Felicity became available, and as of now the novel is at last available in audiobook as well as ebook and paperback.  (If you're interested in getting a copy search "Unstable Felicity" on the iTunes store, or check out one of these sites: GooglePlay, Chirp,   Some services, notably Amazon's partner site Audible are still taking their time.)  So it seems like a good time to return to the self publishing topic and talk a bit about what we've learned.  

Going into this, I described how I had a business plan for our Christmas book venture, but also that I didn't know how well that plan would go.  No plan, as they say, survives contact with the enemy -- or in this case simply with reality.  A key aspect of that business plan was that I'd use advertising (primarily on Facebook and Amazon) to find readers who we did not know personally and build momentum for the book.  In my rough estimation, I planned to spend $6,000 on advertising over the sixty days of November and December and in the process sell 3,400 copies.

Well, I'll be honest: as of this moment I am spending $0 per day on advertising and we've sold a total of 274 copies so far.  What happened?

Advertising profitably depends on a ratio: the cost of acquiring each reader via advertising must be lower than the amount of revenue you get from that reader.  After some initial testing to figure out what kind of advertising got potential readers to click through at the best rates, out cost of acquiring a reader was averaging just over $4.  The problem was, our revenue per reader was a little under $2 (once you averaged across paperbacks, ebooks, and KindleUnlimited readers.)  If increased my advertising spend, this ratio tended to get a little worse, because my cost per click for advertising and the conversation rate of potential customers reaching the Amazon page got a bit worse.  What I'd take this to mean is that at a low rate of spending, Facebook and Amazon were putting our ads in front of the potential customers most likely to respond to the ads.  As we increased our budget, they ran out of those best prospects and started putting the ads in front of less likely prospects.  

After trying to increase the click through on the ads or increase the conversation rate of potential customers reaching the Amazon page, I did the only rational thing which was to turn off the ads about ten days ago.

This hasn't meant going to zero sales.  We were averaging 3.5 copies per day before I shut off advertising, and now we're averaging 1.5 copies per day.  Some of this, I think, is continued sell through from our social network.  Some is probably referrals as people who already read and liked the book tell others about it.

So where do we go from here?  We've sold 274 copies so far and had over 15,000 page-reads on KindleUnlimited (KindleUnlimited measures the book as 200 pages long so that's the equivalent of another 75 copies.)  That's not nothing, but it's also pretty small for a book.

In the short term, we have two more things to try.  On December 8th we'll start a Kindle Countdown Deal, which is a temporary price reduction on the ebook to $0.99 for one week.  While we're running that price promotion, I've scheduled for us to be featured on eight discount newsletters, each of which goes out to a couple hundred thousand subscribers.  I'm hoping that will not only move a number of copies, but also move the book up the Amazon rankings to the point where the Amazon algorithms start recommending it to likely readers.  

Also, there's the possibility that here in the post-Thanksgiving period more people are interesting in Christmas themed books than in early November when I was last running advertising, so I'm going to run some advertising again at the same time and see if our click through and conversion rates are better.  Perhaps it will even be profitable to keep advertising running for a while after the discount is over.

In the longer term, a solution to this is to improve the revenue per customer side of the equation.  Right now we have only one book that is out, which means that even if a reader really likes the novel (and reader reviews have indeed been quite positive) we don't have another one for them to buy.  One of the things that I've read is key to a lot of self-published authors making a profit is having a large backlist, so that if a reader likes one of their books that reader can go on to read a number of other books. Obviously, not every reader does this, but having the potential for sell-through to other books increases the average revenue-per-reader and thus could make it profitable to advertise.

We'll know how these short term solutions work out in a few weeks, and I'll report back that that time.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing this info- I've been curious about the world of self publishing for a number of years, so it's facinating to read someone whose taken the plunge!

Anonymous said...

Something to examine...are your books indexed in the vendor databases libraries use? When I place a purchase request to my local public library, it actually starts with a search in the library's vendor database. If it's available via this database,only then can I place the request. I was able to request "If you can get it" for my local public library, but "Unstable Felicity" isn't showing up in the library's purchase database. Hope this helps as an avenue of investigation...

Darwin said...


Yes, we're looking into this.

For people who are self-publishing as we are, the short version is: we need to get the hard copies listed not just with Amazon but with Ingram Spark, which is the print-on-demand line from the mega-distributor Ingram. That will make us available for easy ordering for libraries and independent bookstores.

I didn't do that this time around as a matter of time: you have to do all the self publishing stuff twice and there's a bit of extra set up cost as well, though really not much. But we're absolutely doing that for Strange Plots (scheduled for release August 2021) and I'll set up Unstable Felicity via Ingram at the same time.

On the positive side, the audiobook for Unstable Felicity should be available through your library if they have an audiobook download-and-borrow service such as Hoopla. We're on all the services for Audio.

Thank you so much for requesting our books! We really appreciate it.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the detailed explanation! I will check in with my public library in August, and request both books.

My library does have Hoopla - but "Unstable Felicity" isn't available there right now. I'm in Canada, so maybe there's a licensing difference? I don't know, but I'll keep checking.

I really enjoyed "If You Can Get it" - I look forward to reading more from both of you. All the best with your work.