The publishing industry is in an era of upheaval, forcing authors to flex their entrepreneurial muscles, searching for new avenues of income and ways to keep their books in the public's eye.
One way of doing this is to self e-publish your backlist or other books that you hold the rights to. With more and more readers embracing e-books and e-books becoming the fastest growing segment of publishing, the idea of cutting out the middle men and keeping profits for ourselves is tempting.
Here are a few things to think about before walking the path of electronic self-publication:
Why self e-publish?
Like many authors, once I was firmly established with NYC publishers, I never thought about e-publishing or self-publishing, much less doing both!
But I found myself with four manuscripts that were previously in the hands of NYC publishers but for a variety of reasons never made it to publication. Then I saw a blog by multi-published thriller author JA Konrath discussing his own experiment with electronic self-publishing. His argument was logical and the numbers impressive, but I was still skeptical.
I wanted these books to find an audience but I didn't want to tie them to contracts I might later regret, especially as these four novels were all romantic suspense/thrillers and my career has moved to more mainstream suspense/thriller. So, I decided to perform my own self-publishing experiment.
I realized that I could use these books as promotional products as well as money-makers. Since I was in control of when they were released, how long they were available, and what their price was, I had a greater freedom than I do with my traditionally published works.
This turned out to be an unexpected bonus as by the time I had them formatted and ready for publication it was December, 2009. Then a few weeks later the earthquake in Haiti hit. Since I'm a pediatric ER doctor as well as a thriller novelist, I wanted to raise money for Doctors Without Borders.
What better way than using my experimental self e-pubbed books?
I sent out a newsletter and posted on my website and a few blogs that I was donating the proceeds of my Kindle sales for the month of February to DWB. I chose the Kindle format simply because it is exceptionally easy to track Kindle sales on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis through my Amazon DTP (digital text platform) account.
What I discovered was: Kindle readers read… a lot! I ended up raising over $1600 for DWB, which translated to almost 1700 books sold in one month on Kindle.
Anyone deciding to self-publish should have a good grasp of their target audience. You want to build an audience who will stay with you and help spread the word of your books—and that means making a promise to always deliver a high quality read.
In other words, just as in mainstream publishing, self e-publishing is still all about the reader.
It's not about clearing your closet of dusty manuscripts just because you can. Unless you plan on giving your work away for free, your goal is to attract paying customers. Which means the books you self e-publish need to be just as good as any book a NYC publisher is selling.
If you have a backlist that you own the rights to, they've already been professionally edited, you're good to go. Do be aware that publishers own the cover art, so you'll need to create a new cover for your e-book.
If you're planning to publish a book that hasn't been previously published, make certain it is professionally edited. The four books I chose for my experiment were all edited prior to my self-publication—three by NYC editors (before their road to publication went astray) and one by a professional freelance editor. Do not rely solely on your critique partners or your Great Aunt Martha who gushes to her bridge club about your writing!
Remember, not only are you competing against NYT bestsellers, you're also selling a product to a consumer. If you expect to win their hard-earned money—and more importantly, their time, attention, and future sales loyalty—then you need to create a worthy product.
What about the money?
Some authors are focused on the income they can earn from self e-publishing. I choose to use these books as promotional devices, a way to keep my name out there in between traditionally published books. But that still meant finding the optimal price points.
I did my own experiment, setting various price points for my four novels. The first, NERVES OF STEEL, is a romantic suspense that includes a cover quote from Sandra Brown as well as endorsements from a dozen NYT bestsellers, so I set it at the highest, $3.99.
The next two books, CHASING SHADOWS and LOST IN SHADOWS, were romantic thrillers, the first two of a series, and were a bit shorter in length than my other two novels, only around 80,000 words. I priced them at $2.99.
The last novel, BORROWED TIME, was the oldest manuscript of the group, and I priced it at $1.99.
My results? In the first week, with no advertising or promotion, the most expensive, NERVES OF STEEL, sold 42 copies on Amazon and 4 on Smashwords.
CHASING SHADOWS sold 85 copies on Amazon and 10 on Smashwords. The second book in the Shadows Op series, LOST IN SHADOWS, sold 49 copies on Amazon and 9 on Smashwords.
And the least expensive of the four, BORROWED TIME, sold 37 copies on Amazon and 4 on Smashwords.
After that first week, when I began to advertise my program to raise money for Doctors Without Borders, my sales increased dramatically to an average of about 50-55 sales a day on Amazon alone.
It's not a huge amount of money, but I'm on track to make more in a year than I would if I took any of the offers from NYC publishers that I'd received for these particular manuscripts. All with no expenses incurred other than my time and a few dollars for the copyright, ISBNs, and the stock art I used in the cover design.
I now have seven e-books and am experimenting with new ways to use them as promotional tools. Since I'm also traditionally published, I like to use my e-books as reader appreciation gifts. I've incorporated one novel as a free giveaway to anyone who "likes" my Facebook fan page at http://www.facebook.com/CJLyonsBestsellingThrillerAuthor.
Amazon and Barnes and Noble don't allow self e-pubbed books to be given away for free (at least if they do, I haven't figured out how), so I also plan to have special "sales" pricing a title at $0.99 for a limited time.
As with all of my e-book efforts, I won't do any promotion except letting my newsletter readers and perhaps a tweet or post to Facebook or a group. So far, that's working.
Self e-publishing has its place in an author's career path, whether to keep a backlist alive, to try new genres and markets, to use as a promotional tool in conjunction with traditionally published books, or to generate a little income on the side.
Thanks for reading!
As a pediatric ER doctor, CJ Lyons has lived the life she writes about. In addition to being an award-winning medical suspense author, CJ is a nationally known presenter and keynote speaker. Her first novel, LIFELINES (Berkley, March 2008), received praise as a "breathtakingly fast-paced medical thriller" from Publishers Weekly, was reviewed favorably by the Baltimore Sun and Newsday, named a Top Pick by Romantic Times Book Review Magazine, and became a National Bestseller. Her award-winning, critically acclaimed Angels of Mercy series (LIFELINES, WARNING SIGNS, URGENT CARE and CRITICAL CONDITION) is available now. Her newest project is as co-author of a new suspense series with Erin Brockovich. To learn more about CJ and her work, go to www.cjlyons.net.