The View So Far

Since Perigee is nearing the end of its 90-day Kindle Select period, this seemed like an opportune time to reflect on what I’ve learned so far about self-publishing.

(Crickets chirping)

Wow, it’s quiet in here…
But seriously folks – it wasn’t easy. Is it less emotionally draining than the query/wait/reject/repeat cycle of traditional publishing? Well, duh. So are colonoscopies. But don’t think you’re getting off easy, not if you care about putting out quality work. Plenty don’t, but that’s not the crowd I assume you’re running with.

Converting a Word file to an e-book is like turning chicken $#!+ into chicken salad, which I’ve mentioned before. It’s essentially setting up a web page for each chapter, which I decided to farm out to my cousin’s company, Fresh Ink Foundry. Same with typesetting (or whatever we call it in the digital age) for the trade paperback. A lot of indie writers have advocated doing all of this yourself – and it is possible – but it’s a steep learning curve. I’d already sweated enough blood up to this point, thankyouverymuch. Handing it off to a vendor was well worth the money, both to me and my family. We ended up with both electronic and dead-tree versions that are of professional quality (much better than I could have done on my own, especially in the same timeframe) and I would stand them up against anything from the Big Six.

In terms of the e-book, it’s better in some cases. Too many publishers are not devoting the editorial time for converting files that their products deserve, and it shows. Typesetting practices that have been accepted standard do not translate well at all in e-books (think hyphenating, drop-caps, first-line bold, etc). They’re two separate endeavors.

And know this: after three layers of independent editing, I was still finding errors. Some of them were real nail-on-chalkboard howlers and I have no idea how they made it into the final copy. But that’s the nice thing about e-books…it’s easy to fix. Upload a new .mobi file and -poof- problem solved.

Which illustrates the main advantage to indie publishing – we can respond much faster than a traditional pub house. And that goes for just about everything, from fixing mistakes to responding to market trends. Having direct control over pricing is a huge advantage and I’m still experimenting with it. For a long time it looked like 99 cents was moving more copies until sales fell off a cliff. I put it at 2.99, ran another promo period, and sales have been pretty solid since then.

So, back to my KDP Select experience – overall, I’m quite pleased with it. I was originally suspicious of taking the book down from Barnes & Noble, and potentially making it free on Amazon. But it wasn’t selling much at B&N anyway, so what the heck…

I can now say that it was absolutely the right decision. Those free promotion days are incredibly powerful tools, particularly if you can enhance them with some promotion on the web. Over 10,000 copies of Perigee were downloaded free, which resulted in it hitting Number One on Amazon’s Thriller and SciFi lists on the promo days. That translated into spikes in real sales, and it hovered inside the Top 20 of those same lists for several weeks. While it would have been nice to have 10,000 paid copies out there, at this stage exposure matters far more than money. All those freebies resulted in lots of good reviews and more prominence, which is key. Now there are over ten thousand readers who are hopefully waiting – and willing to pay for – the next book.

The other advantage of KDP Select is that I’m being paid for each download through the Kindle Owners Lending Library, and that’ll be the swing vote when deciding whether or not to make Perigee available elsewhere. Can I make more in sales through B&N, Smashwords, and iBookstore than through lending at Amazon? In the long run, is that worth limiting my exposure to one sales channel?

Right now the answer is “I doubt it” to both questions (a conundrum, I admit), but these decisions will be easier to make after I get more out there (I hope). More titles equals more options.

Short term, it might be useful to go for another 90 days, based on nothing but gut instinct. I suspect this is a wave that’s eventually going to crest, especially if the Big Six settle with the Justice Dept. on that price-fixing suit. Once the e-tailers are free to charge their own prices, a lot of my advantages as an indie writer will disappear – so I’d best take advantage of them now. Being able to price what I believe is a comparable-quality title for significantly less than a Big Six title is a nice spot to be in for the time being.

Think about it – if Amazon suddenly runs a fire sale on big-name titles, would you pay close to the same price for an unknown self-pubber? Not without an already-established following, I’m guessing.

So get out there and buy the dang book already, before it’s relegated to languish in obscurity.

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