writing

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.

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.

Mathematical Model For (E-) Book Sales

It seems to be a no-brainer that with more books on the market, an author will see higher revenues. I wanted to know more about how the sales rate varies with the number of books. So I did what I always do when faced with an economic problem: construct a mathematical model. Even though it took me several tries to find the right approach, I’m fairly confident that the following model is able to explain why revenues grow overproportionally with the number of books an author has published. I also stumbled across a way to correct the marketing R/C for number of books.

The basic quantities used are:

  • n = number of books
  • i = impressions per day
  • q = conversion probability (which is the probability that an impression results in a sale)
  • s = sales per buyer
  • r = daily sales rate

Obviously the basic relationship is:

r = i(n) * q(n) * s(n)

with the brackets indicating a dependence of the quantities on the number of books.

1) Let’s start with s(n) = sales per buyer. Suppose there’s a probability p that a buyer, who has purchased an author’s book, will go on to buy yet another book of said author. To visualize this, think of the books as some kind of mirrors: each ray (sale) will either go through the book (no further sales from this buyer) or be reflected on another book of the author. In the latter case, the process repeats. Using this “reflective model”, the number of sales per buyer is:

s(n) = 1 + p + pĀ² + … + pn = (1 – pn) / (1 – p)

For example, if the probability of a reader buying another book from the same author is p = 15 % = 0.15 and the author has n = 3 books available, we get:

s(3) = (1 – 0.153) / (1 – 0.15) = 1.17 sales per buyer

So the number of sales per buyer increases with the number of books. However, it quickly reaches a limiting value. Letting n go to infinity results in:

s(āˆž) = 1 / (1 – p)

Hence, this effect is a source for overproportional growth only for the first few books. After that it turns into a constant factor.

2) Let’s turn to q(n) = conversion probability. Why should there be a dependence on number of books at all for this quantity? Studies show that the probability of making a sale grows with the choice offered. That’s why ridiculously large malls work. When an author offers a large number of books, he is able to provide list impression (featuring all his / her books) additionally to the common single impressions (featuring only one book). With more choice, the conversion probability on list impressions will be higher than that on single impressions.

  • qs = single impression conversion probability
  • ps = percentage of impressions that are single impressions
  • ql = list impression conversion probability
  • pl = percentage of impressions that are list impressions

with ps + pl = 1. The overall conversion probability will be:

q(n) = qs(n) * ps(n) + ql(n)* pl(n)

With ql(n) and pl(n) obviously growing with the number of books and ps(n) decreasing accordingly, we get an increase in the overall conversion probability.

3) Finally let’s look at i(n) = impressions per day. Denoting with i1, i2, … the number of daily impressions by book number 1, book number 2, … , the average number of impressions per day and book are:

ib = 1/n * āˆ‘[k] ik

with āˆ‘[k] meaning the sum over all k. The overall impressions per day are:

i(n) = ib(n) * n

Assuming all books generate the same number of daily impressions, this is a linear growth. However, there might be an overproportional factor at work here. As an author keeps publishing, his experience in writing, editing and marketing will grow. Especially for initially inexperienced authors the quality of the books and the marketing approach will improve with each book. Translated in numbers, this means that later books will generate more impressions per day:

ik+1 > ik

which leads to an overproportional (instead of just linear) growth in overall impressions per day with the number of books. Note that more experience should also translate into a higher single impression conversion probability:

qs(n+1) > qs(n)

4) As a final treat, let’s look at how these effects impact the marketing R/C. The marketing R/C is the ratio of revenues that result from an ad divided by the costs of the ad:

R/C = Revenues / Costs

For an ad to be of worth to an author, this value should be greater than 1. Assume an ad generates the number of iad single impressions in total. For one book we get the revenues:

R = iad * qs(1)

If more than one book is available, this number changes to:

R = iad * qs(n) * (1 – pn) / (1 – p)

So if the R/C in the case of one book is (R/C)1, the corrected R/C for a larger number of books is:

R/C = (R/C)1 * qs(n) / qs(1) * (1 – pn) / (1 – p)

In short: ads, that aren’t profitable, can become profitable as the author offers more books.

For more mathematical modeling check out: Mathematics of Blog Traffic: Model and Tips for High Traffic.