A year of discovery- taking part in the e-book revolution

More than a year after I asked indie writer Dan Holloway to write on when you shouldn’t self-publish, a post which is still one of the most popular ones on this blog, much has changed in the publishing industry. In the past few months, I have heard quite as few stories of writers who have successfully navigated the self-publishing pitfalls and have done all the right things.

One such writer is Susanne O’Leary, whom I met on Authonomy. I asked her to write a post about her experiences.

A year of discovery- taking part in the e-book revolution.

By Susanne O’Leary (www.susanne-oleary.com)

A year ago, I didn’t know much about e-book publishing. I had a vague idea about uploading books on the internet and then selling them to anyone who had one of these strange electronic reading devices. I had seen a Sony reader at the airport but only gave it a passing glance, thinking it was one of those gadgets that would never catch on. It didn’t seem to be something I would ever get into. I would find out very soon how wrong I was.

At that time, I had two novels out with publishers through my agent, one I had written two years earlier and the second one I wrote while waiting for the first one to get noticed. As a previously published novelist (in the chick-lit and contemporary fiction genre) with an agent and four novels already out there with good sales figures and excellent reviews, I was sure it would be just a matter of time before I signed another deal. The fact that the bottom was falling out of the book market and publishers were taking on less and less authors, was something I didn’t feel applied to me. Wrong again.

At the end of January, my agent told me he still hadn’t heard from publishers he had submitted to over a year earlier and that all he could get was ‘we’ll be in touch soon’ from others when he tried to get an update. It began to feel very much like banging my head against the wall. It hurt and there seemed to be no point to it. I decided to dip my toe into the unknown waters of e-publishing.

After a little research and talking to other authors on some writers’ sites, I published Swedish for Beginners on Amazon Kindle in February. After only minor promotions and a little networking, this book began to sell. Slowly at first, around two or three a day, but after three weeks or so it had already sold 198 copies and received a couple of really nice reviews. On the strength of this, I asked for the rights back from the two publishers who had published my four previous novels. I then uploaded Fresh Powder and Finding Margo within weeks of each other, and sales started to trickle in. I realised after a while that the prolific writer has much to gain, as some books are ‘seasonal’ and sell well at certain times of the year. Fresh Powder, for example, set in a ski resort is selling hugely right now and Villa Caramel (another one of my oldies, set in St Tropez), last summer’s big beach read, is now lingering slightly.

So there I was, with four books on Amazon Kindle and a fifth, A Woman’s Place, my historical novel, in the pipeline. I lost no time and uploaded this one as well, along with a light romantic comedy Silver Service, which had never been published before but was sitting in my computer ready to go.

All this was done in the space of six months, during which time the e-book market was beginning to boom; not only in the US but in the UK as well. And now, here I am a year later, with great sales figures, excellent reviews, having said goodbye to my agent and feeling slightly dizzy as I contemplate the past year and the changes not only in my own attitudes but in the whole publishing industry. A year ago, if someone had said to me I would be a self-published author in charge of my own publishing, I wouldn’t have believed them. Or that I would be selling in such numbers, making three times the money of my ‘real’ books.

What is even more astonishing to me however, is the enormous amount I have learned since I published my first e-book.

Formatting, for example, was a huge stumbling block and I made some mistakes at first. I then realised that it is of utmost importance not to have any formatting flaws, as this ruins the enjoyment of a book and can damage the author’s reputation and make you look like an amateur. I therefore get my books formatted by the excellent Dellaster Design (www.dellasterdesign.com) who, for a reasonable sum, produce a perfect e-book in two e-book formats.

Proof reading and editing are equally important and, as most of my books have been previously published, they were already finished to a professional standard. My two unpublished books had been thoroughly read by my agent and proofread by two beta readers.

Cover design. It is important to have a good cover, even though it’s not really a ‘cover’ as such, just a picture. But that picture should be a good representation of the type of story the reader can expect and should look just like a real cover.

Marketing. This is a little tricky. Everyone has their own approach to how they get their book noticed but I felt that the slow and steady approach was best, participating in various forums and also trying to get to do an interview on book blogging sites. I takes a little time before word of mouth kicks in, so it’s good to remember to be patient and not rush into posting sales pitches everywhere. The Forums I find good for attracting readers and also networking with author authors are:
Kindleboards: http://www.kindleboards.com/index.php?PHPSESSID=hccdhtjuipfks3ie0nre5mmjn4;
The Indie Spot:

Facebook is also very good but there, I don’t agree with the hard sell. Be yourself and try to be chatty, fun and informative. I personally don’t mass e-mail my friends or ask anyone to buy my books. I don’t ever complain about setbacks but keep an optimistic tone and announce any good news about sales or reviews. Having a blog is also a great way to showcase your writing and if you keep it informative and fun you’ll soon attract followers.

The advantage with e-books is that they never go out of date. Nobody takes them off the shelves to make space for new releases. They are there for as long as I want them to be and will keep selling (I hope) without going out of date or coming to the end of their shelf-life. Compared to e-books, selling printed books now seems to me like trying to sell elephants.

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