The ebook of It Takes a Worried Man outsold every one of my other books in any format during this week.
(this is according to the bookscan data I get from Amazon, which, strangely, doesn't include ebooks sold on Amazon, and the info I get on the kindle direct publishing page.)
*(This is what I mean by bestseller. It's my personal bestseller. Number one on the "Books by Brendan" list. Not on any other bestseller list. But still.)
This is a pretty extraordinary achievement for a ten-year-old book released in the dead zone of mid August.
So, first of all, a big thank you to everyone who has shared the link on twitter or facebook or face to face. Word of mouth is clearly how things sell, and I really appreciate your helping me spread the word about this book. I'm really quite honored that people like this book enough to continue to recommend it to people ten years after it first appeared. I've said this before, but your support makes my writing possible. And, I should add, the writing of most of the other authors you enjoy is also made possible by your evangelism. Reader recommendations are way more powerful than professional reviews, author begging/twitter spamming, and any of the other techniques people use to try to sell books. So, yeah. You rock. And please keep it up!
So besides the awesomeness of people who like my books, what other conclusions can I draw?
1.) I think it helps to have the book available for free on the web. I find extended reading on a website kind of clunky, so I don't think I'm losing a lot of sales, and judging by what google analytics tells me, most people are spending between 3 and 30 minutes on the site, which means they are actually reading. Does this mean I should make Forever Changes free to read on the web as well? Given that this ebook has sold far less than the ITAWM ebook, I suppose it couldn't hurt. However, I suspect that...
2.)Memoirs are different. This is all speculation, but I think most of us would take a chance on a memoir by an author we don't know if we're interested in the events that the memoir describes. Whereas I think novelists have a higher bar to clear. I also think that ITAWM has a certain amount of narrative drive that Forever Changes really doesn't have. Don't get me wrong--I love Forever Changes, but it doesn't have the runaway train momentum that's going to suck people in. At least, I don't think so.
3.)Wow, way more people have Kindles than Nooks or Kobo readers. The Kindle edition is outselling the Nook edition by at least four to one. I have yet to sell a Kobo edition. Does anybody have one of those? I have heard that they're big in Canada. Canadian friends? Do you see any Kobo readers on the bus or the subway?
4.)Pressbooks is awesome. I've been using the service for free, and you can too, for up to five books. (I have no financial stake in this company. Sadly. ) It's just a basic Wordpress interface that will kick out an epub or a pdf or both at the end, and boom--you've got a real-looking ebook! It also makes it very easy to rearrange chapters and stuff. If I were certain that I was writing only for self-publication via ebook, I'd probably use their interface to write the book.
5.)I'm not sure whether authors should pay for "distribution." This seems to be the basis of Smashwords' business model--just hit "publish" once, and we'll put it everywhere ebooks are sold! But it's trivially easy to publish to Amazon, B&N, and Kobo. Seriously. It literally took me five minutes at each site. So why pay Smashwords 10% of your revenue to do it? (You'll get 70% if you do it directly and 60% if you do it through Smashwords.) (Pressbooks, to be fair, is also rolling out a pay-for-distribution model) Maybe I'm missing something. Well, I am missing something--the iBooks store. Apple will only sell your book with an ISBN-- the number that tells the world "I'm a book!" These are prohibitively expensive ($250!) to buy individually but very cheap to buy in bulk, so Smashwords (and traditional publishers, and soon, Pressbooks) buys a big chunk of 'em to parcel out. So if you want an ISBN, I guess go with Smashwords. However--the most recent data I've seen is that the iBooks store has slightly less market share than B&N. So slightly less than 1/4 of Amazon's market share. So given the current market conditions, paying for distribution doesn't look to me like it's worth it. I don't think I'm missing very many sales by not being in the iBooks store. (I know Smashwords has many fans, so tell me if I'm missing something here.)
6.) Most of these places make you price your book at $2.99 in order to get the 70% royalty. The 30% royalty you get on books you price at 99 cents makes it hardly worth your while to do that as anything other than a promotional gambit. It's probably a decent idea if you've just released a sequel and you want to hook people in to your series, but otherwise I'm not sure it makes any economic sense.
7.) I'm leery of making any sweeping statements about traditional vs. self publishing based on this experience. Most of the people who consider themselves fans of my work who are not people I am related to or went to school with are people who found my work because I was traditionally published. Also, I got free editing, so the finished product I'm able to put up looks more polished and professional than something I'd be able to do myself. I do wonder whether covers are really that important in the ebook world, though--I made the new cover for It Takes a Worried Man in Microsoft Paint. I really like the photo and the fact that I'm half out of frame looking at Kirsten, but I'm under no delusion that this is a professional-quality cover. It hasn't seemed to matter, though.