Publishing

Self-Publishing – A Rat Race

The trouble with the rat race is that even if you win, you’re still a rat. (Lily Tomlin)

Self-publishing seems like a cozy thing to do. You are free to choose any topic, free to write any way you like, free to set your own schedule … in short: a fantastic opportunity to express oneself and to share your ideas with the world. But as with anything on God’s green Earth, you gotta read the small print. There’s a good chance that self-publishing sucks you into a rat race filled with uncertainty, stress, anger and sleepless nights.

You chase the Amazon ranks like an addict chasing the drug that will bring his doom. You rush to finish the next book before the previous one drops out of Amazon’s “new releases” list. You are downright angry at an invisible algorithm that doesn’t make your book appear in the “also bought” list. You spend hours and hours of searching new ways to be seen and spend hours and hours frustrated when you can’t achieve the visibility you desire. You are happy about the sudden rise in sales and wonder obsessively about the following drop. You feel fantastic about the praise and are devasted for days about a bad review. If you get sucked in, there’s little left of the original idea: express oneself and share the ideas.

Any book takes a lot of work. The actual writing and researching, the creative process, is only a part of it. Thorough editing takes patience and time. You have to proof-read your book until you can’t stand the sight of it. This is the only way of making it error-free if you don’t intent to hire an editor. You have to format the whole thing for Kindle properly, including making it pass the EPUB validation (which will most likely cause you to scream at your innocent computer screen on more than one occasion), make the right book cover and write a catchy blurb. Then comes the worst part: marketing. Like a desperate and lonely vacuum cleaner salesman you go from virtual door to virtual door, begging for attention and feeling dirty all along. All for this little gain in visibility and rank, the self-published author’s cocaine. Then come the rollercoaster sales and reviews. If you kept your cool up to now, this will get to you. It’s amazing how much a negative review can hurt. But it’s just part of the job.

The rat race is on and you are rat #2,534,287 trying to find your edge. Remember the original idea? The expressing and sharing thing? Rat #2,534,287 doesn’t, all it wants to do is chase ranks.

I’m not making a case against self-publishing. I’m making a case for remembering why you do it or want to do it. The original idea that made writing your first book a joy. The first book! Just pure creative process. No thought wasted on ranks, promos, new releases, also boughts, pricing, … That’s how it should be. And that’s why I’m taking a break from publishing, to get back to this state of mind. I want to be me, not rat #2,534,287.

Distribution of E-Book Sales on Amazon

For e-books on Amazon the relationship between the daily sales rate s and the rank r is approximately given by:

s = 100,000 / r

Such an inverse proportional relationship between a ranked quantity and the rank is called a Zipf distribution. So a book on rank r = 10,000 can be expected to sell s = 100,000 / 10,000 = 10 copies per day. As of November 2013, there are about 2.4 million e-books available on Amazon’s US store (talk about a tough competition). In this post we’ll answer two questions. The first one is: how many e-books are sold on Amazon each day? To answer that, we need to add the daily sales rate from r = 1 to r = 2,400,000.

s = 100,000 · ( 1/1 + 1/2 + … + 1/2,400,000 )

We can evaluate that using the approximation formula for harmonic sums:

1/1 + 1/2 + 1/3 + … + 1/r ≈ ln(r) + 0.58

Thus we get:

s ≈ 100,000 · ( ln(2,400,000) + 0.58 ) ≈ 1.5 million

That’s a lot of e-books! And a lot of saved trees for that matter. The second question: What percentage of the e-book sales come from the top 100 books? Have a guess before reading on. Let’s calculate the total daily sales for the top 100 e-books:

s ≈ 100,000 · ( ln(100) + 0.58 ) ≈ 0.5 million

So the top 100 e-books already make up one-third of all sales while the other 2,399,900 e-books have to share the remaining two-thirds. The cake is very unevenly distributed.

This was a slightly altered excerpt from More Great Formulas Explained, available on Amazon for Kindle. For more posts on the ebook market go to my E-Book Market and Sales Analysis Pool.

Five Biggest Mistakes In E-Book Publishing

Are you thinking about publishing an e-book? If yes, then know that you are entering a highly competetive market. Publishing a book has never been easier and accordingly, many new authors have joined in. To have a chance at being read, you need to make sure to avoid common mistakes.

1. Lack of Writing Experience

Almost everybody can read and write, it’s a skill we learn from an early age on. But writing is not the same as writing well. It takes a lot of practice to write articles or books that make a good read. So before you start that novel, grow a blog and gain experience. This provides a chance to see what works and what doesn’t. And the improvement will become noticeable after just a few weeks and months. As a plus, the blog you grew can serve as a marketing platform once your e-book is finished. In such a competitive market, this can be a big advantage.

2. Writing for Quick Cash

Writing for quick and easy cash is a really bad idea. This might have worked for a short while when the e-books were new and fresh, but this time is long gone. Just browse any indie author forum for proof. The market is saturated. If your first e-book brings in 30 $ a month or so, you can call yourself lucky. If it’s more, even better, but don’t expect it. Writing and selling e-book is not a get-rich-quick scheme. It’s tough work with a very low ROI. If you do it for the money, you’re in for a disappointment. Do it out of passion.

3. Lack of Editing

If you spend three weeks writing a book, expect to spend another three weeks on fine-tuning and proof-reading. To find the mistakes in the text, you have to go over it again and again until you can’t stand your book anymore. You’ll be amazed that seemingly obvious mistakes (the same words twice, for for example) can be overlooked several times. And no spell checker will find that. Tedious editing is just part of writing and if you try to skip that, you will end up with many deserved one-star reviews.

4. No or Ineffective Marketing

With 2.5 million e-books on Amazon, many of high quality, getting noticed is tough. Without any marketing, your sales will most likely just disappear in an exponential fashion over time. The common marketing means for indie authors are: growing a blog, establishing a facebook fan page, joining facebook groups and interacting, becoming active on twitter, joining goodreads and doing giveaways, free promos via KDP Select, banner and other paid ads (notably on BookBub – as expensive as it is effective), and and and … So you’re far from done with just writing, editing and publishing. You should set aside half an hour a day or so for marketing. And always make sure to market to the right people.

5. Stopping After The First Book

Publishing the first e-book can be a quite sobering experience. You just slaved for weeks or even months over your book and your stats hardly move. Was it all worth it? If you did it out of passion, then yes, certainly. But of course you want to be read and so you feel the frustration coming in. The worst thing you could do is to stop there. Usually sales will pick up after the third or fourth book. So keep publishing and results will come in.

E-Book Market & Sales – Analysis Pool

On this page you can find a collection of all my statistical analysis and research regarding the Kindle ebook market and sales. I’ll keep the page updated.

How E-Book Sales Vary at the End / Beginning of a Month

The E-Book Market in Numbers

Computing and Tracking the Amazon Sales Rank

Typical Per-Page-Prices for E-Books

Quantitative Analysis of Top 60 Kindle Romance Novels

Mathematical Model For E-Book Sales

If you have any suggestions on what to analyze next, just let me know. Share if you like the information.

How E-Book Sales Vary at the End / Beginning of a Month

After getting satisfying data and results on ebook sales over the course of a week, I was also interested in finding out what impact the end or beginning of a month has on sales. For that I looked up the sales of 20 ebooks, all taken from the current top 100 Kindle ebooks list, for November and beginning of December on novelrank. Here’s how they performed at the end of November:

  • Strong Increase: 0%
  • Slight Increase: 0 %
  • Unchanged: 20%
  • Slight Decrease: 35 %
  • Strong Decrease: 45 %

80 % showed either a slight or strong decrease, none showed any increase. So there’s a very pronounced downwards trend in ebook sales at the end of the month. It usually begins around the 20th. Onto the performance at the beginning of December:

  • Strong Increase: 50%
  • Slight Increase: 35 %
  • Unchanged: 10%
  • Slight Decrease: 5 %
  • Strong Decrease: 0 %

Here 85 % showed either a slight or strong increase, while only 5 % showed any decrease. This of course doesn’t leave much room for interpretation, there’s a clear upwards trend at the beginning of the month. It usually lasts only a few days (shorter than the decline period) and after that the elevated level is more or less maintained.

The Emerging World Of Ebooks

As we all know, the Internet changed everything. The Net and the Web have brought the world closer together. Many older means of communication have either been replaced or changed so as to co-exist with, and complement, electronic communication. Email, for example, has replaced almost all business and a lot of personal letter writing, though our mailboxes remain filled with lots of mail, most unwanted. A lot of printed newspapers and magazines still exist, but their content is now also available on websites, and the websites are timelier and often offer more detailed information. Printed media is not dead by any means, as millions of people still prefer to curl up with a good book or grab a paper on their way to work. There have been many efforts to popularize ebooks, downloadable books in digital form, but their acceptance remains in its infancy.

But that won’t stay that way. Ebooks make sense. Since books are almost all text, an ebook download is very fast and hundreds of ebooks can fit onto a small storage card. Ebooks do not contribute to cutting down forests, they do not need to be trucked across the country, they do not produce waste, and they are usually a lot less expensive than printed books. Ebooks also have many other advantages. Depending on your ebook reader software, an ebook can be annotated, bookmarked and searched. The latter is especially useful; I often want to go back to a certain quote or paragraph in a book, and electronic search is so much easier than leafing through a printed book.

One of the problems ebooks face is that people do not know how to use them. They are confused by the many different ebook formats or think they need a particular piece of hardware to read them. In fact, the formats are not really a problem. Most computers can read popular ebook formats and ebook reader software is freely available. Hardware is a bit more of an issue. Hardcovers and paperbacks are awfully convenient and they don’t need batteries, so a lot of people shy away from reading on a computer screen or spending the money for a dedicated ebook reader.

This is really too bad as ebooks are clearly the way of the future. They just make too much sense. Those who dismiss ebooks are missing out on a great and increasingly attractive alternative to the printed page. Those who are willing to give ebooks a chance are rewarded with lower costs and the ability to carry an entire library on a device of their choice, be that a notebook computer, a Tablet PC, a dedicated ebook reader, a PDA or even a smartphone. And they have access to a potentially much larger variety of books. That’s because ebooks make self-publishing easy and lots of authors who don’t have a chance of getting picked up by traditional print publishing houses can distribute their books electronically. Best of all, there is no waste and there will never be unsold books that end up on a bargain table or in a landfill.

My advice is to give ebooks a chance. Download a free ebook. Look for sites dedicated to ebooks, especially those with a website design that is appealing. See what format you prefer, and what device you like to read on. But be warned: you may get hooked. Once you get into them, downloading and reading ebooks can become a passion.

Typical Per-Page-Prices for Ebooks

I did a little analysis of ebook prices per 100 pages for different categories in the Amazon Kindle store. In each category I looked at the top 12 paid books. This data can help readers to judge prices and authors to set them. Here are the results in increasing order:

Erotica: 1.7 $ per 100 pages (ranging from 1.0 – 3.1 $ per 100 pages)
Sci-Fi and Fantasy: 1.8 $ per 100 pages (ranging from 0.8 – 4.4 $ per 100 pages)
Short Stories: 2.0 $ per 100 pages (ranging from 0.5 – 4.2 $ per 100 pages)
Self-Help: 3.6 $ per 100 pages (ranging from 1.3 – 6.7 $ per 100 pages)
Applied Math: 4.0 $ per 100 pages (ranging from 0.9 – 7.9 $ per 100 pages)
Economy / Business: 7.2 $ per 100 pages (ranging from 3.3 – 17.2 $ per 100 pages)

Typical (and in my opinion fair) prices seem to be 2 $ per 100 pages for fiction and 4 $ per 100 pages for non-fiction. In the special case of business books, prices of 7 $ per 100 pages seem common.