Category: A Perfect Blindness

Self-Publishing Part 12: the Book Hunts for 500 Buyers: from a Tournament to a Marathon

Going it Mostly Alone: the Publishing Path of A Perfect Blindness

As technology allowed self-publishing to rise, the Marathon overtook the Tournament as the primary model through which most authors need to view their relationship with books and publishing.

Before the advent of POD and digital books, the primary model of publishing was a tournament.

In fact most “glamorous” or “creative” jobs such as

  • “showbiz”
  • arts
  • sports
  • allied fields like advertising

any place where very many people want to get into very few available slots, and round after round of attrition winnows down the contenders for the scarce positions.

Whether one’s goal is to be one of the few new authors published by Random House, an artist in an advertising house or painter appearing on a gallery’s wall, life happens. Choices are made. Editing gets put off, portfolios lay incomplete, and canvases remain untouched as lovers arrive, as marriages occur, as children are born, as paying rent becomes too prominent.

Over time, those still competing face fewer and fewer challengers. Eventually, only a few will outlast all the others and grasped those few places on bookshelves, in offices or on gallery walls. No matter who is most talented, best, or is a genius—the ones who survive the tournament win. Everyone else fails. Period.

For books on the Traditional Publishing Path, this means completing a manuscript, getting the help it needs, attracting an agent (or risking the slush pile), both tournaments on their own, and that one won, the author joins the next: convincing an editor to back a book.

Then, this multiple tournament winner must join yet more struggles. Once the book finally appears, the chosen author must not only battle other titles for the publishing house’s limited marketing resources, but then with all other books for shelf space, virtual and not, and then with TV, games, social media, etc. for an audience’s strained attention.

Here, our valiant survivor enters the marathon of promotion: I’ve seen both Stephen King and Umberto Ecco hawking books (Pet Cemetery and Prague Cemetery respectively.)

While there are similarities between marathons and tournaments—both are about lasting—it’s the differences that are key surviving each.

With marathons: as long as you cross the line, you win, no matter how long it takes. Sure, some people get across the goal faster than you, but you do make it in the end.

With current technology, all it takes to skip the tournaments is money and time. Pony up your bucks and buy a starting place in the marathon. Of course, the amount of time and money spent on getting that starting spot can determine if it’s a half or full marathon: more money and time spent on better quality editing, the shorter distance, in theory.

The leap into the Marathon via cash and technology isn’t without it’s issues. Each technology works best for accomplishing specific goals, and next up, we’ll dive into hitting one of the limitations I’d not fully considered: page count, pricing, profit and the realities of marketing.

Know someone who might like this? Post it or Forward this email to let them in on it.

To ask a question or follow along with the self-publishing adventure, join the “Publishing Path of A Perfect Blindness” here.

 

Self-Publishing Part 12: How the Book Hunts for 500 Buyers, a Real Time Break

Going it Mostly Alone: the Publishing Path of A Perfect Blindness

So far, this path to publication has relied mostly on an extended flashback, with occasional forays into general truths. Today will be a break into present time, with a quick step back a couple of weeks to prepare for what is happening now. Continue reading “Self-Publishing Part 12: How the Book Hunts for 500 Buyers, a Real Time Break”

Self-Publishing Part 12: the Book Hunts for 500 Buyers or A Marathon, Not a Sprint

Going it Mostly Alone: the Publishing Path of A Perfect Blindness

Speaking of marathons, A Perfect Blindness has been out for about 6 months.

Sales?

Not nearly what I wanted, hoped, nor planned for. I’m creaking along with about half of what I need for the first milestone (with an asterisk explained later).

Likely owing to that I’ve avoided doing what’s important. By which I mean the hard parts. Been busy as hell. But not getting what I need to get done: outreach. The letting people know the book exists part. The scary part. Continue reading “Self-Publishing Part 12: the Book Hunts for 500 Buyers or A Marathon, Not a Sprint”

Self-Publishing Part 11: Amazon Lists, Best of This, That, or the Other Thing ​

Going it Mostly Alone: the Publishing Path of A Perfect Blindness

Amazon lists appear at first flush to be the Holy Grail of big-data sales accuracy. Amazon knows what was sold, when, by whom, to whom, and for some Kindle versions, even how many pages have been read: Finally, the El Dorado of sales accuracy.

Except it’s not. Continue reading “Self-Publishing Part 11: Amazon Lists, Best of This, That, or the Other Thing ​”

Self-Publishing Part 11: Bestseller, best of and Other lists. Who makes them matters.

Going it Mostly Alone: the Publishing Path of A Perfect Blindness

The last member of the list making quadrangle are the list makers themselves. No one does this as a public service. They are trying to attract people to their publication/business, be that a newspaper, periodical, blog, bookseller or what-have-you. Now, if all the list maker did was get raw numbers, rank the top X titles and publish it, all the bestseller lists would be essentially the same, differing—if at all—only by how the numbers were grouped: broadly as fiction vs. nonfiction or more narrowly into genres like mysteries, or subgenres like drawing-room whodunits. But if this were all a list maker did, it wouldn’t matter much if a reader went to the NYT or WSJ, or this blog, or that column: Same number of books sold. Same titles. Same ranking, same old same old.

How would that attract readership? Why buy XYZ newspaper if I can find the same thing in that one, or some other one or free in a blog? Continue reading “Self-Publishing Part 11: Bestseller, best of and Other lists. Who makes them matters.”

Self-Publishing Part 11: How Many Books are You Selling Anyway?

Going it Mostly Alone: the Publishing Path of A Perfect Blindness

When talking book sales, the recording industry analogy provides a last insight: regional sales. Each of the three most important recording industry bodies handles international sales differently, sometimes giving some hint to that in their name: The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) handles, unsurprisingly “recorded music produced and sold in the United States.”  The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) “is the organisation that represents the interests of the recording industry worldwide,” meaning some of the world’s countries: “IFPI represents the recording industry worldwide with some 1,400 members in 66 countries and affiliated industry associations in 45 countries.” Think NOT the US.

Finally Impala | The independent music companies association, which represents “ European independent music companies.” So the rest of the world’s Indy recording artists need to find shelter elsewhere.

This regionalism is true for books as well. Not faulting the industry—not all countries respect intellectual rights the same way, if at all, and not every place is transparent, so negotiating this collage of laws, numbers, products, etc. is damned difficult.

Still, I’m writing books to sell and to make some money, and so I gotta know if my book sells and how much, right?

Now, I’ve one sale that’s a complete mystery to me.

I’d been in contact with a UK based blogger (redheadedbooklover), who eventually reviewed my book. This was the first stranger to respond in writing to my book (the post lives here), and so I was rather excited, as can be expected.

As I she’d offered to post a review on Amazon.com, and as that verified buyer reviews count more than others, plus with the costs of posting a physical copy to her, it’s was cheaper to have her buy the book there. So I arranged for that.

After I sent the few Pounds to cover the costs of purchase, I would visit Author Central, and look at “the Sales by geography” function, and find—only a map of the US. I checked back several more times and found nothing about the UK, though her post did go up. She clearly purchased and read A Perfect Blindness.

But, where was the sale?

Not on Amazon.com.

So where does it show up? I don’t know.

Another international oddity first: she did post a review— on the Amazon.uk.co site. It doesn’t appear on the .com (US) site, and the US reviews don’t show up on the UK version. Nuisance that, but what am I gonna do?

It’s still unclear how foreign sales are counted, by anyone—I’m trusting it’s counted by iUniverse, smushed up with all other sales.

It occurred to me that I could take the total sales on iUniverse and subtract all the sales in AuthorCentral to find the book (or books.) But that doesn’t work.

          Why?

This is where I can hear the rising chorus of objections to the claim there is no authority that counts book sales—“But what about Nielsen BookScan?”—grows so loud.

Well, what about it?

“They count books from all sales sources,” I hear the derision. “It’s on Amazon, right there in the Author Central page. And the NYT and WSJ both use it for their respective Bestsellers lists.”

Somewhat true. But not really.

Yes, those sales figures do appear on the Author Central page on Amazon. And yes, the NYT and WSJ start with the Nielsen BookScan numbers before massaging them according to their own secret formulae to come up with their own unique rankings. Using simple Bayesian analysis will tell you there is something about Bestsellers lists that shouts it’s not a ranking of books that sell the most units: if these lists were strictly reporting on the total number of books sold and nothing else, they would be the same. Yet they’re quite different. This shows THAT the newspapers (and Amazon) do something other than simply count the number of units sold and display that list, but it does not reveal WHAT they do.

Granted, Nielsen BookScan is the closest an author can get to a third party confirmation of what a self-publishing company reports as sales for a given book, but it’s quite far from representing all copies sold, at least for most books.

What does Nielsen BookScan actually show? Roughly 85% of retail PRINT books in the US.

Ah-ha! No wonder my UK blogger’s purchase never showed up, nor will any ex-US sale, ever, apparently.

As written right in Author Central:

“Figures are provided by Nielsen BookScan and include approximately 85% of all trade retail print book sales in the U.S., including most of Amazon print book sales.” (Emphasis mine.)

That is a lot it doesn’t report. As in ZERO digital sales, so if you have a digital-only book, you’re completely out of luck here. If it does well outside of the US: can’t check here. So, what all else DOESN’T it tell you (again taken from the Author Central page):

  • Sales to libraries
  • Purchases by wholesalers such as Ingram
  • Sales of used books
  • Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) sales
  • Pre-orders—orders for a book before the book is released

Drilling down a bit further in the Amazon caveat estimating 85% of “trade retail print book sales in the U.S.,” and all “of Amazon print book sales) one finds this further elaboration:

Sales reported depend on which retailers selling your book participate in Nielsen BookScan, and whether your book is registered with one of the companies from which Nielsen derives its list of reported ASINs. […] If your book is Print on Demand, your publishing company may not report ISBNs to Ingram and you may not see sales information.

To be reported, a book’s seller must participate in Nielsen BookScan and the book must appear in BookScan’s bibliography. This bibliography is generated from a number of third party sources including the Ingram Book Company. (Emphasis mine.)

There is one last note from Amazon of interest: “If a disproportionate number of your books are sold by stores that do not report to Nielsen, your sales information may underestimate your total sales.” Weird wording. What if it’s proportionate? Like 50% of the stores don’t report to Nielsen, and 50% do, 1:1—wouldn’t that underestimate total sales? Of course, they do use “estimate” total sales, not “report” total sales (just being peevish here).

Of course, any books that the author sells out of the back of a trunk or at signings when the author brings his or her own books aren’t included. So the Nielsen BookScan is hardly the unimpeachable source we authors would like to keep everyone honest, including our publishers and various bestseller lists.

It’s also true that some publishing houses release their own numbers for lifetime sales of self-published books, which might be useful, or not. Sarah Disabrow, a former head of Author Solutions (current owner of iUniverse), once remarked in an interview that the average book they publish sells under 200 copies in its whole lifetime. Then, in an email she sent me early in the process of submitting A Perfect Blindness, she said only 5% of the books they publish belong in bookstores. Certainly, many people don’t intend to sell, but many that do don’t invest the time, money and effort to create a high-quality book.

A friend recently read A Perfect Blindness and said he was very surprised at its quality—there were no proofreading errors; he’s read a good number of self-published books and said most are full of blunders and mistakes.

That’s what the Editor’s Choice designation from iUniverse means: a book earning that designation is of the same high quality that a Traditional Publishing house would publish, including professional quality proofreading, thus sans errors. The other 95% that don’t belong on bookstore shelves don’t usually get this attention.

If we were to average the sales of only those books that are of a high enough quality to have appeared on a Traditional Publishing house’s list, such as those that earn the Editor’s Choice designation from iUniverse, the number of titles drops dramatically. My contact at iUniverse didn’t have access to the average sales figures of every Editor’s Choice earning book, but all the books that earn Star (500 physical book, 4,000 ebook sales) MUST have the Editor’s Choice designation.

The only self-publisher that offers such a designation (that I know of) is iUnverse with its Editor’s Choice designation. Which is a precursor to A Perfect Blindness’s Rising Star designation, putting it into an even more rarefied collection of books. Those that are not only well written, but have an identifiable market, with a clear path to it, and an author that seems capable of doing what’s needed to get it there.

This then is an even more exclusive club: books that are of high quality and have a market and support to reach it. If only these titles are included, the average sales per book would likely jump upwards, especially once we then add the books the author purchase (at a discount) and eventually sells, plus other excluded categories, like the rest of the world, etc.

That doesn’t mean these high-quality books with markets will necessarily sell enough to leap onto bestsellers lists, nor bring in enough money to quit a day-job. An author still has to do the hard work of selling the book, bringing it to the identified market, and the market actually has to like it. Editors and writers do make judgment errors. A well-written book with a clearly defined market and a motivated author may well flop for myriad reasons. Many of which are beyond the author’s control. Things happen.

But, we can be sure that poorly-written books generally don’t sell, with or without a market, and well-written books that have no market don’t either. This needs be kept in mind when viewing average sales per book, as most are firmly tilted to the lower end of the range as well as the difficulty in coming by reliable numbers in the first place.

 

Know someone who might like this? Post it or Forward this email to let them in on it.

To ask a question or follow along with the self-publishing adventure, join the “Publishing Path of A Perfect Blindness” here.

 

Self-Publishing Part 11: What Selling 250 Copies Really Means

Going it Mostly Alone: the Publishing Path of A Perfect Blindness

Returning to the idea that the average self-published book sells fewer than 250 copies: What does this say about the average author of the self-published book? That he or she knows fewer than the average number of people, or that the people they know aren’t the kind that supports writers? Or that only a few close personal friends and some family ever buy self-published books?

Nope. Continue reading “Self-Publishing Part 11: What Selling 250 Copies Really Means”