Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Hold Me to Account: The Success or Failure of a self-publishing collective Part 1

Today is official launch day for YEAR ZERO WRITERS. Three of our books are now available to download, and to buy in print. I'm not going to promote them here, but I will explain how I intend to monitor the progress of my book through this blog so that other writers can see what works and what doesn't work for self-publishers.

I have always said that I want to be transparent throughout the self-publishing process. I believe it's possible to succeed as a self-publisher with books like Songs from the Other Side of the Wall, especially as part of a group like Year Zero Writers. As part of this, I want to be up front about what I hope to achieve, when, and whether I am making that progress. So every month I will report on what has happened in the preceding month and what I expect to happen in the month ahead.

I will begin with an outline of my expectations for Year One - September 2009-August 2010.

Paperback sales target: 500 achieved through a mix: 100 sold through personal signings; 100 sold through bookshops; 300 sold online

Free download target: 5000

Anticipated pattern of sales: an initial spike in September largely to family and friends, and through signings at local bookshops. Sales will be driven largely by reviews online and in the mainstream media, so the marketing priority is to get the book read and reviewed. A review slot on the site e-Fiction Book Club in January is expected to spike sales, but efforts will focus on getting reviews on sites where readers of the book congregate such as Suicide Girls, NME, and Indie/emo culture mags. The main sales flow will start when the ISBN comes through and the book is available, and able to be reviewed, through Amazon. I expect this to be sometime in October.

September forecast: downloads: 150 paperback sales: 30

activity: I am hopeful of a report in the local press, which I hope to lead to a review, but this will not come until October. Local bookstores will get author-signed copies. I anticipate slow but steady sales, whcih I hope to convert to a number of full-scale presentations and signings in November, to coincide with the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. This is the month where sales will be largely friends and family, and the emphasis is on getting people to read the free download and report good word of mouth to their friends.

How I will report

It would be easy to double account my Lulu sales - to show them as online orders when I order copies for direct sale, and then report the direct sales. I will not do this. Instead, I will report on the following headings:

online sales (only those purchased online by other people)

direct sales copies ordered (the number of books I've ordered to distribute myself)

direct sales (sales by me at signings, conferences, festivals & to colleagues/friends/family)

direct distribution sales (copies ordered online from me - I will be offering free posters from October to people ordering in this way)

bookshop sales

Advance figures

The book has been available as a free download for a month. Figures so far are:

downloaded from Smashwords: 68

downloaded from Year Zero Writers: 6

downloaded from my website: 12

direct e-mail requests from strangers: 4

Total downloads: 90


  1. Dan, sounds like a plan.... I'm wondering about the book signings. I'm sure I too can rustle up a couple for myself, but if books have been bought by family & friend, how do you go about ensuring people turn up for the signings who will buy the book - ie strangers? The bookshop will want to see some sales out of the venture?

    Also, don't forget to try and get copies into your Borough library - if one accepts, you may get all the Branches to buy a copy....

    Bests (and I shall be buying a copy!)

  2. Hi, thank you!
    I am VERY lucky to have a few amazing local indie bookshops AND an interested local readership, supprtive of local authors. Events organised at the stores tend to be well-attended. I'm also quite lucky with the timing - people are very interested in the Berlin Wall at the moment - I've already spoken at a conference about it, and had a very good response.

  3. Good luck Dan; fingers crossed!

  4. Thanks, Tony. Your copy is on its way.

  5. Very nice, sir. If I have time-I will seriously have to fight my disability like never before to make time-I will check it out.

  6. Thanks - I saw your post on TTS - will send you an e-mail about bacon!

  7. Good luck it it - an admirable strategy! It's hard work even if you're not self-publishing, but the more we can all work out ways of getting people to read us, the better. I agree with your previous poster - contact your library. Mine ordered 46 copies after I emailed them, one for each library in the county, so it just goes to show. Looking forward to hearing how you get on./

  8. Ah, the bacon. I will finish that when I get the time. I am working on something(s) else at the moment.

    That is a nice suggestion, Miss May. (I think that is something ALL of us should keep in mind)
    -Licorice Lain

  9. Katherine, thank you - yes, someone else (as well as Sulci) reminded me about libraries (and also not to forget to sign up for public lending rights!). I had a wonderful day yesterday - the two bookshops I really wanted to take my books will (one of them is Independent Bookshop of the Year, Jaffe & Neale in Chipping Norton; the other is he Albion Beatnik - a bookshop dedicated to music and the Beat Poets - I'm deliberately NOT putting anything in Oxford's Waterstone's yet to make a big thing of the Indie spirit [it's not 100% altruistic - with Freshers week approaching, I can do some great joint events with the shop - it also makes a great story. I write a semi-regular column for The Indie Handbook, and this will make a great story for them]).

    My first big event will be a music/signing gig. I am lucky to know some awesome bands through my music writing (then again, I do music writing to get to know awesome bands).

  10. Licorice, good luck with everything you're doing!

  11. I won't hold you to account because that would be unfair--I will wish you good luck again! I think you have a good shot today at achieving what you want.

    I've been self-publishing for almost ten years now, and it's been a hard, mostly no-rewards experience. In the past few years, self-publishing has slowly gained more acceptance (finally), but now I think economic situations have tightened people's fingers around their wallets, which is understandable.

    So I'd always suggest self-publishers don't have too many expectations w.r.t. sales. Just do it and see what happens. You (whoever you are, self-publisher, small press or big publishing house) probably can't know what will happen with high accuracy until a book's been out there and you can observe what's happened.

    And I've grown increasingly uncomfortable with the "success" and "failure" words--how I measure these seems to constantly change. But, more often than not, the number of sales isn't involved in that measuring. I'm more interested in my works getting reads.

  12. F.P. Thank you. The reason I want to be accountable is because I come across a lot of people who are thinking of self-publishing and watching to see how we do, and I really want them to go in with both eyes open.

    I agree about success - I want to be read - rather, I want to have readers with whom to discuss words - both mine and theirs. I DO want to earn enough eventually that I can write full time, but that's only because it'll give more time for that conversation.

  13. WHERE have I read an excerpt of this? Boggles my mind, I can't remember...I do know I liked it. I'll order a hard copy, and remind you of that fact when I have one of my own finished...lol. Best of luck to you!

  14. Hey, Amy - wow, thanks! Alas, it could have been pretty much anywhere - I (er, *hangs head in embarrassment*) googled the title the other day and 78 sites came up, 77 of which were about the book (and one of which was about a project working with Polish prisons, whcih I kind of liked, and may adopt as a cause for serendipity's sake).

    No, I know where it was, because I remember you commenting - it was on Pitch Parlour. You liked it but you took me to task over my opening :-)

  15. And Aimee - VERY best wishes for NaNoWriMo

  16. Wonderful, Dan. I'll follow this with interest. I hope your targets turn out to have been overly cautious!

  17. Thank you, Shayne :-) Weherever it leads, and whatever I predict, I'm sure the ride will be bumpier than expected!!

  18. Nice one Dan. I'll be following to see what sort of realisitic figures result. This is going to be an interesting exercise.

    And thanks for the plug :)

  19. Hey, Merrilee, thank you. I would like to do a piece about your site, because I've come across a lot of e-fiction sites in the last week, but I like the way you do things best. What I'm really intrigued about:

    1. Do you think your model is sustainable as you get flooded with e-fiction?
    2. Have you found your site developing its own patricular taste? I think that's going to be the crucial thing in determining which sites become the portals of choice.

  20. Hi Dan,

    The answer to question 1 is 'no', and we have already made changes that will show in the future as we catch up with our reading list. There's going to be a lot more author interaction and discussion, and a lot less stories read.

    This means that the answer to question 2 will be yes, as we are going to start vetting our submissions on more than just basic quality. We will be focussing on stories that have the potential to be exceptional. I'm getting the feel for what the members like, but I also want to throw some unusual works in the mix.

  21. I very much like the sound of 2. I also love the soubd of author/reader interaction - I hope it stays driven by the readers rather than the sites where authors take over and end up talking to themselves, because that would be incredibly valuable - both for authors, and for readers. If there's anything I can do to help, just shout.

  22. It will be driven be readers, i.e. us :) And we're damn picky readers too.

  23. Wonderful. It's already a site that authors WANT to be listed on. Which sounds like you've got the start of a virtuous circle.

  24. Something I found really effective when I self published a book was approaching library reading groups and offering to come and give a free talk / Q&A if they read my book. Not only did this help sales (with each group ordering an average of 15 copies) but I also got some invaluable feedback from the readers

  25. That's a very good piece of advice. We often forget just how wonderful a resource libraries can be for writers as well as readers

  26. i find this somewhat amusing because
    you will discover that it is impossible
    to track the rewards as you go along...

    it might seem easy enough to calculate
    the value of beers people buy for you,
    although that won't help you pay rent.

    it'll be more difficult to put a value on
    the couches that your fans let you surf.
    it's saving you the cost of a hotel, yes,
    but is it a cheap motel, or a classy one?

    and how much is sex with a groupie worth?
    (the literary groupies are worth lots more
    than the rock ones; they're much smarter.)

    and life-long friendships with fans? priceless.


  27. the true rewards are as easy to count
    as grains in a sandstorm.
    But if they were as few
    as oases in the self-same desert
    they would be enough.

    I count only lest others follow
    where they do not want to go
    and others still
    say things that are not true.

    The road I travel brings joy
    with every click
    delight with every day,
    and the comfort of friends new
    and old
    each time I close my eyes.

    I write, and live,
    amongst friends.
    That's reason enough to write
    the way I do.

  28. There is a thread that is accumulating blog links for authonomers. You should put your link there.