How is my eBook going?

Sanity Juxtaposed, my eBook that is now available on Smashwords, Amazon, Kobo Books, Borders.com.au and the iBookStore (as well as others) has been out for a little over three months now and so I’m starting to assess how well it’s been going – or not going well, as I’m beginning to fear.

The first step in that assessment started with this piece I wrote for Alan Baxter’s series on Digital Publishing, and me looking at some of the factors for poor sales.

To date, I’ve sold 6 eBooks (4 on Smashwords and 2 through iBooks) and none on Amazon for Kindle. There may be more through iBooks and the Kobo Store since the start of December, because sales haven’t been reported since then and some people mentioned they might buy it but it will easily be less than 10. 10 books isn’t quite what I was hoping for.

I don’t want this to become a whine, but I am left wondering about what’s gone wrong after seeing that 91 people have download the sample on Smashwords and only 4 people have bought it. It could be that what they read was shit (which is I possibility I’ll come back to) or it could be the nature of people buying online. I flip out $5 (the old price) or more for a beer all the time, or $2 (the price I dropped it to) for a drink, a donation to a busker etc. and it doesn’t seem to matter but people seem to freak when it comes to purchasing stuff online as if that money is worth so much more. The Oatmeal’s comic explains this point in hilarious fashion.

I don’t want to make it available for free or for .99c because I think $2 isn’t that much and I did work on that book. It’s not worth nothing. I realise people like free content and I blog like crazy to provide that but I also believe in supporting writers and have bought a number of eBooks from friends not just because I want to read their work but because I want to support them.

A lot of those people downloading the sample though, are quite possibly strangers and so I accept that they may judge it on the sample. The start of the book features my first short stories and poems. This was a bit of a gamble because it’s not my best work, nothing like what I write now. But I put it in to be be true to the original version of the book, released in 2005, but also to show a progression of my writing style. I tried to explain the reasoning for this but either people didn’t get it, didn’t read the introductions, or it didn’t work.

I can’t really tell because as of yet, I haven’t gotten any real feedback on the book, whether the early works worked, or whether any of it was any good. So all of this is just me thinking too much and wondering aloud.

I am now thinking of starting again, as in, doing a new eBook, maybe with only a few shorts, some newer stuff and a few select pieces of flash fiction that people really liked and see how that goes.

What does that mean for Sanity Juxtaposed? I could remove it, make it free, make it cheaper or just leave it there. I’m still tossing it up but it’s useful to have others like Shane Jiraiya Cummings and Aaron Polson embarking on similar (but apparently more successful) experiments and hopefully with a few of us reporting on our progress, we can learn something. One thing Shane is doing to increase his sales and impact on the market is releasing multiple eBooks, which is an argument for leaving Sanity Juxtaposed there and releasing something new as well.

But at the moment, what I need is feedback on what people think about my eBook, the sample and the possibility of releasing something else. I have a story called ‘My Boss Sucks’ that myself and others like but can’t find a market so it could be a way of releasing it out into the wild and being done with it. What do people think?

Update: Sanity Juxtaposed is now no longer available after finally having some honest feedback from people. It is well worth reading the comments below. It has some decent advice for writers.

25 thoughts on “How is my eBook going?

  1. Pingback: Benjamin Solah discusses his ebook experiment | Shane Jiraiya Cummings

  2. My feedback on your ebook.

    “Whilst I wouldn’t call this my best work, I hope it gives you a taste of me and that it makes you want to read further as I work on more short fiction and novels – aiming to improve my writing all the time.”

    I read that, and then I read “why I write”, and then I read the first 3 paragraphs of the first story and knew I would never shell out money for your book.

    What are you offering me? Stale leftovers that you yourself admit is ‘not your best work’, and you want me to spend time and money on it?

    I get that it’s an experiment, what I don’t get is why you think a reader would be interested in it. There was nothing in the opening of that story to make me want to read on, and if I don’t want to read the first story, why would I want to buy the book?

  3. Hi Ben,

    I’m interested to hear experiences of eBook publishing because I can see it’s another way for the future of publishing. I thought I’d take a look at your free sample and give you an honest appraisal of my initial reactions. So here goes.

    I do feel that with eBooks the rules are different from hardbacks/paperbacks – authors haven’t got much room for the biographical preamble, because I read differently on screen, be it a webpage or an eBook. If I were publshing an eBook I’d have the copyright info and then I’d launch straight into the writing. The rest should be somewhere else, on a website or blog such as this one. When I download an eBook, all I want to see is the actual story. Perhaps this is because by the time I’m downloading an eBook, I already know quite a bit about it. That’s usually from the author’s web presence, or recommendations.

    Perhaps it’s the nature of formatting, and the constraints of formatting eBooks, but there’s no really clear indication that the story has started. The title to your first story is not big enough, in other words. If I were being half-assed about flipping through this, I would’ve scrolled right past it and wondered where the stories began.

    Readers each have our ‘thing’ – a personal reading tic that turns us off – and on the first page I was turned off by your comma splice. ‘Halfway through, his flow was halted by a second man walking in, he made a great deal of noise and the sound of his movement as his stepped into the next cubicle sounded like the man with the burger.’ I know that many popular authors make use of the comma splice as a part of their style and those authors have loyal followings but that’s the single thing which alerted me to the fact that this may or may not have been professionally edited. Apologies if it has been. I also noticed word echo with ‘walk’ in the first few paragraphs and a couple of other things – I don’t see much benefit in tearing apart something that’s already out there, but I would question the wisdom of offering this bit as part of your free sample.

    It is perhaps an overly humble thing for you to say that the early works are not your ‘best’ – I would advise anyone to leave such judgments to the reviewers and readers – it’s not for an author to say which is his own best work. You may well be right because you can see your own development as writer, but writers can’t say which stories are going to ring true for any individual reader. Your early work may well be preferred by some.

    Surely eBooks offer one huge advantage over books – authors can go back and make them better. Do authors do that? I have heard that if you’ve got an ISBN you should always attach a new one to subsequent versions, but I’d be tempted to buy a whole bundle of them, then if I got any feedback I’d go back and fix stuff. I’d also fix stuff as I continued to write. I wouldn’t want my early stuff ‘out there’ if I could see ways in which it could be improved. Those are the stories I will either fix up, or keep to myself.

    I do exactly this with my blog. I’ll go back and amend and add and fix and elaborate. It’s a work in progress. I wonder if eBooks should be approached in similar fashion.

    I wish you the best of luck with it anyway. Nice blog.

  4. Firstly, thank you both so much. This is the kind of honest feedback I was looking for, but also stuff that I can kind of see I already knew, which makes me wonder why I did it in the first place.

    Attachment to those first stories perhaps? Not wanting to let them die? Impatience to get something out there?

    As I said in Alan’s post, I’ve learnt that content is extremely important. And further feedback proves this to be the case.

    You see, before releasing it, I asked similar questions, fearing the same thing and people were like ‘release it anyway’ or ‘explain that it’s not your best work’ but I probably should gone with my gut.

    There are always seemed something wrong with me explaining myself before hand saying, ‘here, buy this, but don’t judge me on it because it’s not my best work.’

    The question now becomes where I go from here… I don’t think I can keep charging for it though. I may make it free, take it off, or take out those early works, but am definitely wanting to work on a new eBook…

  5. I’ve sold 35 copies of The First Tale through Smashwords, with a handful through Amazon for the Kindle, but the difference I think is that I’m selling for .99c. Depending on the exchange rate, that can be less than 60p in the UK, and some of my friends were happy to download it for that price as it was actually cheaper than a bar of chocolate. Also, since the work was originally available for free on my blog, I didn’t want to charge a fortune, so what you’re essentially paying for is the ability to read it in one go with the benefit of editing etc. Plus, as it’s only 14,000 words, I felt it would be wrong to sell for any more than .99c. In contrast, I’ve had over 300 downloads of my collection of short stories that I made available for free. I did that partly as a taster of my work and partly because I’d sold some of the stories in it anyway, and now they were out of the rights period, it seemed wrong to “sell” them again.

    I think part of the problem is the pricing (people are still reluctant to spend money on a name they don’t know) and the admission it’s not your best work. I bought it because I know you and I want to support you, but a complete stranger who is unfamiliar with your work might go “Well if it’s not their best work, why should I buy it?” There’s nothing wrong with dropping the price again and promote the link a bit more (I don’t see you tweeting it very often) and you could always give away a story for free on here that is in it as another sample before people buy.

    Or alternatively, take it as the experiment it was, value all that you’ve learned, and get cracking on the next one! You never know, people might download your backlist once you’ve got a body of work available!

  6. I may just drop it to .99c now, but in general, I don’t like the idea of selling things so cheap because I’m worried it will devalue people’s work. I mean, if we all start doing it, people will begin to expect it and we won’t get hardly any compensation. But than again, it’s already happened so perhaps it’s too late.

    All of these stories were previously published and are still available on my site, so I do take your point on that.

    And I was so timid about tweeting the link! I think too much so because I thought people would have a go at me for plugging myself too much…

    Definitely getting cracking on the next one soonish. Thanks for your comment.

  7. I don’t think it will devalue them in general – after all, lots of writers sell e-books for around $5, but that’s once they’ve made a name. Also, short story anthologies are difficult to sell anyway, so bear that in mind. A reader is more likely to pay for a full novel and apparently they do sell better. As for tweeting, obviously don’t tweet the link every five minutes but a few times a week is fine – even a couple of times a day to catch different time zones! Don’t forget, none of this is ever wasted. All of this is a learning curve to all of us, and knowledge can only ever be a good thing.

  8. Hi Ben,

    My two cents is this: trunk stories belong in your trunk. You either take them apart and make them good enough to sell, or you leave them there. Why would you want anyone to see a piece of your writing that isn’t working? If your career takes off, do you *really* want these out there?

    I recently read George RR Martin’s retrospective, and he very carefully put some of his early work in this massive tome – but again, this is stuff that was previously sold somewhere else (in the equivalent of fanzines/semiprozines of the day). Also, Orson Scott Card and Harlan Ellison’s collections had a few of their early pieces and a few never-seen pieces ie trunk stories. Again, very carefully selected to show that “yes, I was once a journeyman too, here’s a sample” but there were only one or two of these pieces included. And this was released well past the peak of their respective careers.

    Laura K Hamilton padded one of her vampire-p0rn novellas with a bunch of her early short stories, and they were just flipping awful. I was actually embarrassed for her.

    There’s so much fiction out there for the reading, even more with the new e-book markets. As such, it is remarkably easy to slide into the infamous “90% of everything that is crap” of Sturgeon’s Law. You should be aspiring to be in the other 10%, not taking the path of least resistance and self-publishing your unsellable trunk stuff.

    Work on the nuts and bolts of your writing first and foremost. Be brutal with your own writing, edit, and edit some more. If you can’t get it to work, trunk it and try something else, and LEAVE IT IN THE TRUNK. You can promote something till the cows come home, but if it’s no good, no-one will want it. I know of a bloke who isn’t the most well-known of authors, his website is massively out of date, and he doesn’t pimp his own stuff overly. He just sold 317 ebooks in a month of his new novella. Because it’s damn good, is why. And yes, he charged 99c a download.

    I offer this tough love advice with nothing but kindness, and the hope that you won’t self-publish anymore trunk stories.

    All the best,

    Jason.

  9. What Jason said, with bells on.

    As for the $0.99 question, it depends. For a starting author, I would put your first works up for that price. Not because you are devaluing them, but because you are competing with a lot of other books at that price. When they are selling well, then you could consider upping the price.

  10. Thanks Icy, Jason and Merrilee. I’d forgotten what it’s like to have decent discussion on this blog. It’s been a while. I’m beginning to be swayed by the pricing argument.

    Never publishing trunk stories is an interesting bit of advice. I’d say I agree with it in most cases, but like you said Jason, you have to be selective about it. I wasn’t selective at all. You see, when I started writing I just put up these stories I’d written on this site (they’re still on here but not for much longer) and then when it came to the eBook, gave ‘em a quick proof read and stuck them in.

    I did ask this question, about what to do with trunked stories, a while ago and didn’t really get much of a response: http://www.benjaminsolah.com/blog/?p=2681

    But what about stuff you can’t publish just because you’ve already put them on your blog? Some people, like Icy, have put that stuff, after editing into an eBook because people like it. I have a few flash pieces like that.

  11. I’d have to agree with Jason and Merrilee. If the work isn’t the kind of thing you’d be proud of, then it shouldn’t be part of a permanent work. Reworked as a piece for the blog, maybe, but not put out for the public to buy. That’s not doing anything for your future sales.

    I’ve got things that I hate to see languish in obscurity, but for many of them, it’s because they’re things I have an emotional attachment to, not things that are really great and undervalued. It takes a hard eye to winnow out the crap of your own body of work, reserving only the best for anthologizing.

  12. Like Tony, I had a story that I worked on for years, because to me it was beautiful. Time and again it would get rejected from magazines, while critters said various things ranging from ‘wow!’ to ‘keep trying’.

    I finally had the common sense last year to put it and another three pieces away forever, and concentrated on new stories. I got 5 sales in quick succession after that.

    I believe there comes a time when you have to let go of the old stories, no matter how much you like them. Putting them up for sale or free is tempting, but ultimately not a good career choice.

    Put up your new work, your flashy work, work that demonstrates your strong voice. Put up work that will make people sit up and notice you.

    When you’ve got a following, then, maybe, you can revisit the old stories and see which ones might make the grade. But they won’t help you get readers in the beginning.

  13. This confirms a lot for me. I’ve just unpublished Sanity Juxtaposed on both Smashwords and Kindle, will delete it from the sidebar and later remove those early stories in another part of my website but will keep the flash floating around on my blog.

    I think I need to return to editing and sending out those shorts I’ve been working on.

  14. Argh! I never said “selectively publish your trunk stuff”. I said “don’t do it!” Maybe if you’re a famous Harlan Ellison type (at the end of your career) you can get away with it as a cautionary or amusing inclusion to a retrospective. Apart from that, don’t *ever* do it.

    As for blogging your fiction, don’t ever do that either. You’ve wasted the opportunity (and your time), and lost that potential story sale. Some places will accept this sort of story as a reprint, but I would honestly recommend the removal of those stories from your site ASAP. As for lumping this sort of thing into an e-book it seems questionable at best. If it’s good enough to read, it should have been out in submission land to start with – but as it’s already been published, you’ve shot yourself in the foot there. You are now restricted to reprint markets and lower (or no) pay rates for these pieces.

    Sorry for the angst, but these are common mistakes made by emerging writers and it makes me facepalm every time I see it. Be patient. Work harder. Develop a thick skin when critted or inevitably rejected. Don’t settle for slopping out unfinished/unworkable stories to the first place that will take them, and self-publish with care, if at all :-)

  15. I think you might find there are some exceptions. I mean, there is a limited market to publish your stuff and even editors admit that a lot of work isn’t rejected just because it’s bad (though a lot of it is) but your work can rejected for a heap of other reasons. I don’t mean to sound dismissive or like “my work is gr8! publishers are just dumb!” because I know where you’re coming from but I think there are cases where just because a piece has been rejected everywhere, it doesn’t mean it’s crap or in need of burying.

    I do know that you can’t publish that work once you put it on a blog. I’m not a complete newbie to this game and after just putting everything up on my website when I first started and then stopping completely to focus on submitting, I have found that there is a point to the whole #FridayFlash thing.

    It’s a community of writers that share there work via their blogs. A few of the commenters here do it too and whilst I’m sure I’m not the only one to sometimes regret having put it up here instead of submitting, I think a lot of us having gained a heap out of it.

  16. Hey Ben,

    Sorry, now I’m in phallacy-busting mode. Firstly, if you’re not aware of it, I’d refer you to a rather awesome website called duotrope.com. They’re currently listing 2699 fiction markets that you can send your stories to, and there are other markets that don’t even end up listing themselves on this site. So there’s not really a limited market, not at all. It’s only limited by how much time you’re willing to put into submit, edit, resubmit, at the expense of new and improved writing.

    And of course, rejections are not always a sign of a story’s crap-factor, ie too many of that sort of story in the slush, pipped at the post by something slightly better, any myriad of reasons. Cool. You may be lucky enough to get a personal rejection, in which case you implement any useful advice, and simply send it to the next market. If it needs work, work on it, or trunk it if you have to.

    But the moment you give up and whack it on the old blog, you deserve a rap on the knuckles, plain and simple. You’ve only cheated yourself.

    Flash Friday seems like a pretty cool idea, a fun way to exercise the writing muscles. A while ago I was involved in something similar, where I wrote a bunch of flash for a shared-blog project, to a regular schedule (in between working on other stuff). It was good for a while, but ended up being a bit of a time-sink, and then the good ideas I plugged into this I couldn’t use for anything else (or submit to many markets, as it had technically been published) and I found I was robbing the good short story ideas to use as flash. So that sort of thing is good in theory, but after a while you’ll probably find you’ll get annoyed with it, and it’s 500+ words of writing time you could add to the meatier writing projects on your to-do list. Plus, the level of “exposure” vs the effort you put in probably isn’t paying off…who is reading these besides other writers? Be honest :-)

    My last piece of unsolicited I’m-a-grumpy-old-sod advice is this: nothing wrong with just leaving something to ferment in the trunk, and come back to it. 6 months, 1 year later, whatever. Sometimes you need to walk away from something to fix it and make it publishable. Writing is not a race, it’s more like a long, lonely slog through the desert. Or a series of swift kicks to the gut, interrupted by the occasional lollipop :-) go the distance, and never settle for the easy option.

    Have a good day,
    Jason.

  17. I do know about Duotrope, but I actually don’t find it as useful as everyone else. I have a few kind of target markets that I send my stuff to first but then when they’re exhausted, I go there and sift through a lot of places that are unsuitable and can never find the right place. And some markets, I look at the website and close the window straight away. I’m left wondering that even if all my readers are other writers, some of the markets probably don’t give you that much readership.

    To make it clear, I’m not someone who just gives and puts it up on the blog. I write stuff to submit and if not, it kind of languishes in my hard drive. The stuff on the blog was written for the blog and part of the Friday Flash project and other things.

    I do agree that it can be a time-sink and it means working on less stuff that you’re submitting but it’s also enjoyable in a way, getting feedback off others, reading other stories and I find I can write stuff without the inner editor or these kind of suffocating need to get things right. And they turn out better.

    Most of my pieces at the moment are more than six months old, being edited, sent out, rejected, edited again but most of them are kind of in need of major rewrites or have nowhere else to go.

    I thank you for your advice. It’s helped a lot and I agree with most of it but I do think that writing for blogs and other things that aren’t strictly for submission has some value

  18. Heya Ben, sorry if I was heavy-handed at all – when I get my grump on, I sometimes get verbose on other people’s blogs! Sorry :-) Good on ya for having a crack at it and trying all these things out, and all the best with your writing mate.

  19. I gotta say, this has turned into a really good discussion. I think Ben’s experience is a good one and he’s learned a lot, so there’s one very strong positive if nothing else. Hopefully, others have learned a lot too.

  20. I totally needed the honest feedback to set it all straight, so no need to apologise. The only thing I feel I need to stand my ground on is the blog and putting fiction up there, because I think that is changing.

    And I guess you see if things are changing by trying them and working out what does and doesn’t work.

  21. Keep sending out shorts and maybe re-work, but don’t reduce the price of your work, Benjamin. Think about all of the hours you spent on it. You’re instinct is right – selling an entire book at 99 cents devalues it.

  22. The world of ebook publishing is changing all the time and so are the routes that a writer takes in order to achieve their dream of publication.
    Some writers may prefer to work without showing the world what they are working on, while others prefer the support and encouragement of a community. And I think it also depends on what the writer wants to achieve. If it is for the fun and enjoyment of writing, I don’t have a problem with blogging the work. If it is for sale and publication, keep it to yourself. And there may be a middle road of beginning with blogging pieces, then moving away to write once you have developed confidence.
    I started with #fictionfriday and #fridayflash as a means of giving me a focus to write, am impetus to produce what is ostensibly “trunk” material. Exposure in terms of author branding was not my intention. It was a means of developing skills and understanding the skills of writing fiction. Having a supportive and encouraging network was a good thing for me as a fledgling writer. That network has exposed me to new avenues such as editors, writing blogs for information and other writers to develop professional relationships. I have made some good connections and friendships which I value greatly.
    In the past few months, I have begun to rethink my participation. This is so I can focus on developing new projects and ideas. I wouldn’t say that the material I wrote was wasted material; there is the potential to spark new ideas or to redevelop the piece. While the piece may now be unsellable as it is, there is the potential for new ideas.
    I’ve gained confidence as a writer through these writing communities, so now I am looking to develop material that I can sub out and sell, stuff that won’t appear on my blog. I probably wouldn’t make an ebook out of early material; I would make it of new material.
    Each writer walks their own path.

  23. Pingback: Refocusing on submissions and short fiction - Benjamin Solah, Marxist Horror Writer

  24. Pingback: Self-publishing and some advice for emerging writers

  25. Pingback: Self-Publishing Review | Blog | Self-Publishing: Some advice for emerging writers.

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