I mentioned a while back that I was planning to sell my backlist as ebooks in the US where, for the most part, they never sold to a traditional publisher.
And – the deed is done. My first book became available for purchase on Amazon and (somewhat later) on Apple, Barnes & Noble and elsewhere too.
The process was pretty simple and cheap. I’ll come, a little later, to the matter of income. But first, here’s how I did it and how much it all cost.
Editing & copyediting
The book had already been edited and copyedited by my UK publisher. I didn’t have a copy of their files and I’d long since lost my original script. But I spent £12 or so getting an old hard copy digitised. That process is 99.9% accurate but still leaves some errors in the text, so I did need to spend a day or two combing through it. The result isn’t perfect, but it’s near enough that you’d have to be a bit picky to care.
The process of re-reading that first text did make me massively aware of the importance of good, strong, forceful editing. The Money Makers was a hell of a long book but, if it hadn’t had pro editing already, I’d have paid for it from scratch. It’s a big dollop of cash, but (a) you have pride in your work and (b) as the indie market has professionalised, even cheaper indie books now look and feel a lot stronger than they did. Obviously, I do run an editorial business, so perhaps I’m biased … but there is a reason why editorial excellence has lain at the heart of all good publishing, since, erp, forever. And your mum doesn’t count.
I wanted a good cover. I didn’t have a clear design in my own mind. I wanted to be able to choose from a variety of options. The cover I ended up with came from the £339 cover design package arranged via 99designs. The cover (the first image in this post) is, in my view, vastly better than the one originally produced by HarperCollins (the blue and gold jobby, left).
The new cover is more personal, speaks more to the story – and, if it has a bit of a retro, nostalgic glow, that’s true to the kind of story I was telling. I think the new cover is very buyable, more so than the old one.
Creating mobi and epub files
This is the kind of techie thing that in pinciple you can do yourself – except that you’ll probably do it worse, quite slowly and (if you’re me) you’ll swear a lot. And why bother? The good folks at makemyebook did the whole thing for £65 – and that’s for a book that was 180,000 words long. They also know the technicalities that you just wouldn’t know if you were doing it for the first time, and they’re blisteringly fast too: a couple of days.
Uploading the files
Because Amazon is so vastly important, I chose to upload my book to Amazon myself so I would have direct access to their dashboard and could make fiddly little changes directly any time I wanted. That process was fast, free and easy. No problems at all.
But Amazon only accounts for about 60% of the US ebook market. (No one knows the exact figure, including Amazon. But 60% is the widely accepted guess. Apple, Google Play and Barnes and Noble all have significant slices of the market. In the UK, Amazon is more like the 90% beast, so you could in principle have an Amazon-only strategy in the UK.) I didn’t want to have to handle direct uploads for all those smaller players, but nor did I want to ignore their revenues, so I made use of a service called ebook partnership which can handle most parts of the ebook process. I paid £199 for a total of 5 uploads – so about $60 for my US Money Makers upload. I get a friendly dashboard and a sense of knowing that someone else can deal with any faff.
The total damage: $700 / £450
Thetotal cost of all that lot came to about $700, and I should think the equivalent of about ten hours of making it all happen, plus about two days of copyediting/formatting. Obviously the book was already written and already edited and already, in essence, copyedited, so the summary above ignores all the most important, most time-consuming and potentially expensive aspects of book creation. But still: three days, $700. That’s not Oh-my-God time and money, but it’s also enough that you wouldn’t want to waste it.
I’ve done absolutely no marketing. None at all. I haven’t tweeted. Haven’t (till now) blogged. Haven’t launched a stupid, pointless press release. Haven’t tried to set up a blog tour. I’ve done nothing at all. Obviously that may not be the very best strategy conceivable, but (a) I’m mostly still trying to finish a novel, (b) most marketing plans for books like this are a waste of time and money, and (c) I have my eyes on a rather bigger prize (of which more later in the year), so I’m keeping my powder dry for now.
Also, of course, I am a published author with an active crime series being well-sold by Random House, so I do have the advantage of existing traffic to my Amazon page, nice book reviews, and so on. Those things do mean that I’m not simply lost in the millions of books available on the site. I think that, without that leg-up, my sales would probably be a tenth what they are. (Though, of course, that in itself might prompt me to be less lazy on the marketing front.)
And the result?
First month revenue: $140 + £35 = $190
The book has now been available on Amazon (.com and .co.uk) for just shy of a month. In that time, it’s made about $200. Sales are modestly increasing, though it’s early days. The books haven’t yet been available on Apple and elsewhere for long enough for me to have any meaningful data there, but presumably those stores will in due course kick in another $100 a month or thereabouts.
But leaving aside other stores and possible increases in sales, the current rate of sales will pay back all my outgoings in 3-4 months and will provide a decent grocery bill’s worth of revenue every month thereafter. That’s not a thrilling outcome, but I wasn’t expecting thrilling. It’s a good outcome, a really satisfying one.
And one of the best things has been my total control of the process. My cover, my blurb, my ebook layout – and all those things capable of change any time I want to change them. I’ll speak, in another blog, about ebook layouts, because that’s one area (not the only one) where indie publishing is actually capable of being smarter and better than trad publishing.
And the future?
The Money Makers was my first novel, but I’ve written a few and I own the US ebook rights to all of them, bar the first couple of Fiona Griffiths novels. This is my toe in the water, my first handful of sand on this brave new continent. But what about you? What are your experiences? What costs have you incurred, what revenues have you achieved? And what marketing tricks have you craftily deployed to boost sales and win readers? I’d love to know – and as I continue with this journey, I promise to tell all.