Thursday 1 October 2009

Hold me to account: Month one accounts of a self-publisher

OK, time for the first month’s report. This was always going to be the most exciting one, because the first always is. So let’s see first what it says; second what happened this month; and third what that means.


1. The stats


(I’m going to break these down day by day because they tell a tale:
3,9,5,17,14,11,8,14,10,10,11,6,15,12,64,25,19,64,14,12,50,25,20,18,22,8,13,9, 14

My website: 2

Year Zero Website: 1

e-mail requests:

Scribd: 9

Total 544


Direct from Lulu: 3

My orders from Lulu: 25

Sold through bookshops: 1

Direct sold by me: 5

Ordered online from me: 1

2. The calendar (what I’ve done, where I got a mention)

Sep 1 – Farm Lane Books gave me a mention and announced she’d bought a copy from Lulu
Both Jaffe and Neale in Chipping Norton and Albion Beatnik in Oxford agree to stock the book
Sep 2 – One in Four magazine are going to run an ad for Year Zero
Emprise magazine offer to do an interview about Year Zero
Sep 4 Barnes & Noble deal announced by Smashwords
Sep 9 into stock at Albion Beatnik, and a date (29 October) fixed for a reading
Sep 10 3 copies sold to conference participants
Sep 14 invited to guest blog on the Aspiring Mangaka and Writers Club website (and the book will be featured there on 6 October)
Sep 16 listing on Finding Free e-fiction
Sep 21 e-mails form two media figures interested in review copies (names omitted until reviews published, if published)
Camden Lock Books, in Old St Station, stocks the book
Sep 22 ebooks Just Published lists the book
I take part in Operation ebook drop
Benny Platonov is offered free, meaning all 3 Year Zero titles are free ebooks, and we can begin presenting a unified platform
Sep 27 My college alumni office offer me a promotional opportunity (more if/when it happens)
Sep 28 Smashwords is down for about 12 hours
Sep 29 I receive requests to guest blog on 2 writing sites about Year Zero
Smashwords announces a deal with Sony.

3. Analysis

Downloads: The smashwords stats tell some interesting stories. I didn’t think there would be such apparently obvious correlations between downloads and events, but there are. Viz:
- The figures jumped from single figures (before Sep they were also 3-10 in general) to regular double figures ON THE DAY the deal to list with Barnes & Noble went live
- Listings on the web fiction guide and novels online did not meaningfully affect figures (it seems). The listings on Finding Free Efiction and Ebooks Just Published most definitely did – AND had a residual effect.
- When smashwords went down for most of the day, there was – unsurprisingly – a big effect on downloads

Books: These are lower than predicted. I can offer the following analysis.
- I predicted a spike from friends and family sales – largely because this is what “established wisdom” tells us happens with self-published books. This hasn’t happened. With family the reason has been “we’re waiting till we do our Christmas shopping”. Friends – well, I try not to “sell” to friends because it’s distasteful, and most of them haven’t gone and ordered the book anyway.
- Things move slowly. I have had progress in terms of getting agreements to do reviews, but they take a long time coming. The first will be out this weekend.
- I’ve managed to arrange some great book readings. I’ll be at the Book Club Boutique on October 5th, and will have a music and wine and reading night in Oxford on 29th. In other words – these are all in the future.
- I haven’t mentioned above because it has been ongoing, but there have been serious issues with my ISBN and subsequent Amazon listing (several people citing “I’m waiting till it’s on Amazon”). I purchased a “Published by You” package with Lulu, which comes with 10 ISBNs. This was in July. Then, at the start of August, Lulu changed their offer without informing people who’d already bought it that it was no longer available. Customer service refused to answer e-mails. There was no help on the forums. FINALLY this month I found a post on the Lulu blog. I had an e-mail and a refund within 48 hours. Impressive, and worth remembering for people – go to the blog not the usual help channels, BUT leaving me still without an ISBN

Next Month:
Downloads: I will struggle to match this month’s because I’ve had the initial spike from listing on the main efiction sites, and I don’t think enough time has elapsed for people to have read what they’ve downloaded and start spreading word of mouth. I’m saying 300
Books: I am hopeful of 25, based on bookshop sales.



  1. There will be at least one more Lulu sale from tonight Dan.

    Forgive me my ignorance, what is 'Smashwords'?

  2. Smashwords is a site that will take your Word document and convert it into 10 different e-book formats in about 20 minutes. You can then either sell the e-books or give them away on the site. So far I think there are about 4500 books there, and the number is rising quite quickly. It's a very well-run site that's doing lots of distribution deals, so it's great for independent authors. It take a cut if you charge for your book, but charges nothing up front so if, like me, you give your book away, the whole thing is entirely gratis.

  3. You are the person I know of that took the time to do something like this. Very interesting.
    -Licorice Lain

  4. That's interesting... I've found Ebooks Just Published gave me a boost, too.

    The thing about all this stuff is that it compounds over time... a few months from now, your stats will be a lot higher, and you won't really know why.

    Oh, and friends and family almost never give the boost you want. Or they ask for free copies :)

  5. Mobile versions? I'm willing to bet some people would want to read on their iPhones ...

  6. Good results, Dan, especially considering you've been labouring without an ISBN/distribution deal. My experience is the same with family and friends - apart from a neighbour who insisted on buying a proof copy for cash!

    My sales through Lulu are the same as yours. I've only had 254 copies downloaded on Smashword, but that's partly because I was late coming round to the idea of freemium - downloads have just taken off since I went free.

    I think your blogging and networking skills are having a big impact and will drive even more sales. Constant activity seems called for - if I go a day without tweeting etc then downloads and page views cease. This is not a problem for you as you have a big web presence, and when you get your ISBN I would bet on you picking up book sales as well - especially if you are discounted, as I have been by Amazon US, the Book Depository and Tesco (!).

  7. Interesting --and labor intensive--post!

    I, too, think that the ISBN will help sales.

    Dan's Family? Why are you waiting? Never too early to shop for Christmas...

    Friends? Don't make Dan ask, just do it!

  8. @Licorice, thanks

    @MCM - a quick tech question - do you know if it's possible to get exact numbers of page views on smashwords? One thing that's interested me is the relation between page views and downloads. If I can work out screenshots and not give away account info I'll print a graph - there are some fascinating correlations (including, when there's a big spike in page views because someone's stumbled the book, there's a two-day lag then a spike in downloads - whereas when the extra downloads are the result of a recommendation on a website, they happen teh same day as the page views, and there's a lower page view:download ratio - so people know what they're coming for). Friends & family - yeah, hey want freebies. I've given about 10 copies away - most to peopel who've offered a review (first one is this weekend. Will post link)

  9. @Eli - yes, I'm a fan (but don't spend much time there) of - personally I think e-readers will go the way of laserdiscs when everyone realises it's easier on an iPhone. Songs was actually proofread by someone on an iPhone :-)

    @Larry - The main thing with freemium is that since I've started talking about it, I've been approached to do 5 gust blogs on the subject! Including one for a site called

    on the ISBN, watch this space next month.

    @ Marisa - thank you. I really don't want my broke friends spending their hard-earned on my boko. My RICH friends, though - they can buty two copies and give one to my poor friends!

  10. If anyone I knew wrote a book I would buy it, even if the book belonged in a genre I wasn't crazy about. I really don't get people. Do you suppose jealousy factors in? A little bit?

  11. Lizzy (is it liz, Lizzy or Elizabeth - it seems to be different in different places and I don't want to get it wrong), I can't imagine it's jealousy - I'm a self-published guy with 9 sales to my name :-) I know a lot of people are very strapped for cash, and I would feel really upset if they felt pressured into buying it. I would much rather my friends recommended the book to five other people, say.

    I have a feeling I may just be a terrible salesman!

    Seriously, though - friend and family sales won't make a book succeed on their own.

  12. All this could be summed up in three words Dan, "It is work." :-) I will reply in two. "Well done."

  13. Amazing analysis, Dan. Very useful research for the rest of us, though, as Larry says - matching your web presence would be tricky - you've built that so well, which must be good for any new books you write, I guess an author doesn't really get going till their audience really gets into their 'brand.' Just one question - given the Smashwords/books difference in 'sales' would you still do the same with future books? Permission not to answer, given!! Tricia

  14. @cat - thank you. It's hard work in that it takes time. It's not hard work in that it involves talking to great people.

    @Tricia - I would absolutely do it this way again. I'll be interested to see if book sales pick up in a few months - and if they do whether their graph mirrors the ebook graph only with a lag, or if it's wholly different. It would be great to be able to get real information on what drives the sales - is it people getting to know the ebook, an increasing awareness in general, word of mouth, or reviews. It's fairly clear what influences the spikes on the download graph, but it might be trickier with books, with more variables in the mix.

    I'm getting my first proper review this weekend, so it'll be interesting to see if that has ANY impact at all

  15. It's so impressive that you're willing to go though this in such detail. It's almost subversive for a writer to be so honest about self-publishing, which is ridiculous, isn't it? Despite the acknowledged awfulness of so many best-sellers (yes, I mean you, Mr Brown), it seems that we're still duped by the supposed link between big publishers and talent. Bravo!

  16. We are still saddled with expectations about quality and commercial publishers - we need the equivalent of anonymous marking, which was brought in when research showed the relationship between examiners' expectations and student grades. Be interesting to see some blind reviews - where reviewers are not shown the name of the publisher or author until after they've written their review?

    The big peaks in my Smashword page views are (1) at the beginning of September, when I uploaded Glimpses to the site, and the Year Zero launch publicity hit the wires; (2) around 19th September which I think was when I went free; and (3) 1st October. Must be some publicity, but haven't identified it yet.

    Downloads mirror those peaks, but at a lower level i.e. not all viewers make downloads.

  17. Hi Katherine. Thanks. I think it IS true that you don't find things that are full of typos and where the page numbers are set at twice the size of the main font and all over the place from a mainstream publisher. And it's true a lot of self-published books are unspeakably awful, so I can understand people being nervous. I think e-books do have a role to play in this, in helping to show people that someone outside the mainstream can write a well-crafted story (and give an idea that it's going to be well-formatted too)

    @Larry - I think a lot of people got a boost from Free-e-day's launch yesterday - we had 170+ site visits, 40 of whom downloaded the brochure, and people were going berserk on the Facebook group as well.

    You don't have long to wait for the first stranger review. Scott Pack of The Friday Project/Harper Collins Fifth Estate is reviewing Songs over the weekend

  18. Good luck for the Songs review Dan.

    I know exactly what you mean about page numbers etc.

    I have just spent the last week standardising my fonts, spacings and page numbers - following sight of my 1st proof copy!

    It's amazing the difference seeing the work laid out actually in a book makes.

    Font sizes that were lovely online - even in a book-alike format just didn't work properly to please the eye in the real book.

    So much, much less has become more and I await the second proof with 'bated breath and hope I've got it right this time.

  19. Yes, seeing it in print makes some things stare out of the page at you that you'd completely missed. What took me particularly by surprise is how much more "crowded" the page feels ni the flesh than in pdf

    And you can find the review here:

    Many thanks to Scott Pack for being prepared to look at the book.