The Opposite of Popular

The online home of alleged author Victoria Leybourne


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Post-Mortem

 

I’ve tried to make this blog an honest account of what self-publishing is like. So I guess I should tell you that, honestly, this launch has not gone very well.

I didn’t really know what to expect, but I guess I sort of assumed that it would do as well as the last one, if not a little better. And it hasn’t. Between 3-7 March, The Rose and the Mask sold 29 ebooks, 19 paperbacks and had 8303 page reads in KindleUnlimited, which works out to ~20 full read-throughs. Between 3-7 November (the matching dates make comparisons nice and easy, so at least there’s that!) The Murano Glass Slipper has sold 18 ebooks, 7 paperbacks and had 1854 page reads in KU, or ~5 full read-throughs. So… yeah. Lower numbers, is what I’m saying.

This is not a complaint, by the way. It’s incredibly difficult to sell any copies of a self-published book without a huge platform and/or lots of marketing ££, so I was lucky the first time – and I’ve still been relatively lucky this time! Being dismayed by this would be like finding £20 down the back of the sofa and then being dismayed to only find another £5 there the next time you looked. (Or something – look, I save my best writing for the books.) But I guess it’s fair to say that this is a bit of a bummer.

If you’re here to learn from my fails, I have some theories about what made the difference. Here they are, in no particular order:

1) The movie factor. The Disney Beauty and the Beast remake came out around the same time I released The Rose and the Mask, a Beauty and the Beast retelling. Readers were almost certainly more in the mood for a BatB story than they might otherwise have been. Short of planning my books around upcoming movie releases (it was a semi-coincidence last time), there is not really anything I can do about this.

2) The preorder factor. Ugggggggh. Okay, so, when you publish an ebook on Amazon, you have the option to set it to go on preorder. A page goes live for it, and people can order it, and then at midnight on your release date those people get charged and the book is delivered to their device. It also becomes available to buy normally at that point.

There is a huge drawback to doing this, which is that your book gets an Amazon sales rank while it’s in preorder. And that sales rank will be bad, because not as many people will buy a preorder as a live book. And it will stay bad even if lots of people buy the book on release day, because the ranks are partly based on history. And that’s bad because your rank determines how much Amazon pushes your book to other customers – whether it appears in top 100 genre lists and so on. This probably isn’t making much sense to anyone who hasn’t been following indie author chatter for years, so apologies for that. Basically, preorders can negatively affect a book’s visibility after release, which can negatively affect sales. They’re worth it to some authors in some circumstances, but generally not a great idea.

I knew all that. HOWEVER. In the couple of weeks before the release, I was hearing that Amazon were taking much longer than usual to approve newly-uploaded books. Like, days instead of hours. Authors were waiting for their books to go live with no indication of when that might happen. I didn’t want that to happen to The Murano Glass Slipper. Partly because I’d lined stuff up – a Goodreads giveaway* that started on the 3rd, plus announcing that release date everywhere) but mostly, to be honest, because I was nervous about the release date and didn’t think I’d be able to handle an unspecified number of days of aaaahhh where the heck is my book??? So I hatched myself a little scheme. A preorder would guarantee that the book went live on the 3rd. The shortest amount of time a preorder can run for is four days, but Amazon were apparently taking multiple days to approve things, soooo… if I set the preorder up four days before, they might not approve it until like one day before, right? Minimal time for the rank to erode, maximum results! Also, I’d read that the rank didn’t actually appear until the preorder got its first sale – and if I didn’t tell anyone about the preorder, no one would preorder it, so it might not be a problem at all.

So, naturally, the preorder went live within hours… and got a sale almost immediately. It is weird not to be pleased by a sale. I mean, I was pleased. Someone was that excited to buy the book! That’s awesome, and I am genuinely grateful to and appreciative of this person. Since the rank thing had happened, I started running some AMS ads on the book (I’ll have to explain that another time so this post doesn’t get out of hand) and ended up with 6 preorders. And it is SO exciting that that many people were interested enough in the book to preorder it. If this was you, thank you.

But… putting it up for preorder was the wrong call, on my part. The Rose and the Mask ranked at 14,039 on release (March 3), rising steadily over the next month to around 4k, and didn’t dip below 20k until late June. The Murano Glass Slipper was mostly around 100k during the preorder period, went to 20,984 on release day and has mostly been around 40-50k since then. It hasn’t made it onto any of the genre top 100 lists the way the last one did, so basically it’s virtually undiscoverable, as far as I can tell. Oops.

3) The series factorThe Rose and the Mask and The Murano Glass Slipper are only a series in a loose sense. Each one is a self-contained romance story and they feature different main characters. They do share secondary characters and a setting, and the main characters from the first make an appearance in the second, but you can read either of them without reading the other. But they’re linked as a series on Amazon, which means that, when you go to the page for The Murano Glass Slipper, it’s marked as Book 2, and The Rose and the Mask is pointed out as Book 1. I’m seeing a modest uptick in sales and reads for The Rose and the Mask, which could well be people seeing The Murano Glass Slipper and thinking it looks good, but deciding to read Book 1 first.

This makes sense, and I expected it. In fact, one piece of wisdom you hear a lot as an indie writer is that the best way to sell a book is to write the next one. There will always be more people who’ve read Book 1 than Book 2. But around 2000 people** have already read Book 1, and I guess I hoped more of them would come back for Book 2. Was Book 1 not good enough for people to want more? Was it fine, but the premise of Book 2 is just not that interesting to people who liked Book 1? (E.g. do people who buy Beauty and the Beast retellings then go looking for more BatB retellings, and skip Cinderella ones?) Or is it just that there was too big a gap between the releases, and I didn’t do a good enough job of getting people who would have liked to read Book 2 to sign up to my mailing list or follow me on social media to find out when it was available? Actually, it’s probably a mixture of these.

 

So, there you have it. It’s too early to declare the book a miserable flop, though of course that’s what my inner drama queen is shouting from her fainting couch. I’m still hopeful that things will pick up. The book could still follow a similar trajectory to the first one, which went quiet for a bit after release before abruptly taking off a week or two later, peaking about a month after release and falling at a respectable rate. (There’s a graph in this post.) Or maybe this one is a flop. That happens. I’m a little sad about it, because I actually think it’s a better book than the first one, but there’s nothing I can do about it – except learn from it. That’s what I’m trying to do. And if someone else can learn from my mistakes, that’s even better! I’m already working on my next book, which is not part of this series – although it might be the beginning of a new series, depending on how it goes. And I’m super-excited to write it. I think that’s the most important thing, really.

 

*By the way, if you’d like to enter that giveaway, here it is.

**This is an estimated number – most of these were KU readers, and you don’t know whether 100 KU pagereads is one person reading 100 pages or 100 people reading a page each.

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a giant lizard reading a book


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Ebooks might be changing writing and I’m okay with that

a giant lizard reading a book

Pro tip: the correct stock photo choice is always the one that inexplicably contains some kind of giant lizard.

I don’t know what all the cool kids were doing as teenagers in the noughties but I was pretty much just hanging out on fanfiction.net. For those of you who had friends and went outdoors as adolescents, fanfiction is what it sounds like: stories written by fans, based on characters and settings from their favourite books, movies and so on. Fanfiction is often posted one “chapter” at a time and therefore written quite episodically. I put “chapter” in quotes because the most popular stories tended not to have the kind of chapters you’d recognise from books. Through trial and error I found that around 1500-2000 words was the optimum chapter length to get people to come back for the next one and, more importantly, to leave complimentary comments – the sweet, sweet nectar that my teenage soul fed upon. And each of those 1500-2000 word chapters had to contain an interesting plot development and a reason to come back next time.

Writing that down, it sounds exhausting. Not a lot of novels change the scene every 2000 words – novelists tend to linger dreamily over things like scene-setting and appropriate pacing. But it was actually a lot of fun. Whenever I felt like writing, I would re-read my last chapter, pick up where I left off, write until I got bored (luckily, usually around the right word count) and then post it.

As a reader, too, I loved having stories broken down into those bitesized chunks. Absurdly short chapters were irritating to keep clicking through but unusually long ones quickly exceeded my attention span. Curiously, if I liked the look of a story that was already finished, I would happily sit and read the whole thing in one go, but I still couldn’t concentrate on a chapter that was too long.

I’m telling you all this because an author on a forum I frequent – the excellent Daniel R Marvello – recently posted a link to an article by in the Guardian: Ebooks are changing the way we read, and the way novelists write. Very short summary: ebooks have caused people to read less attentively and therefore to write more simply. I would throw fanfiction and other forms of online writing (blog posts, Buzzfeed) into that mix too.

Actually, fanfiction has influenced the world of publishing pretty directly. Fifty Shades of Grey started life as a Twilight fanfic and hasn’t changed much. Anna Todd’s One Direction fanfiction After has attracted high-profile book and movie deals. There are other examples but these are possibly the biggest.

I don’t know if there really has been a quantifiable change in writing styles. I’m not sure how you’d go about proving it, although I dimly recall an activity we did with newspapers at school that involved counting words per sentence and showed that The Sun had a reading age of seven (although rather more topless women than a seven-year-old is likely to be interested in). But if it is true, I’m okay with it.

As a reader, I’m inattentive. I like to have the scene set for me but I skip big, dense paragraphs of description. I like creative use of language and expanding my vocabulary but I don’t want to be stumbling over the sesquipedalian (!) every few sentences. “Good” writing is important to me, but I don’t think good has to mean “fancy”. I have a degree in Literature and now I don’t want reading to feel like hard work anymore. And that feeling is magnified when I read an ebook. I can lose a whole day curled up with a paperback, enjoying the lulls in a story as much as the climaxes, but my expectations of anything I read on a screen are the same as they always were of fanfiction: grab my attention, and keep grabbing it, because otherwise it will wander off.

As a writer, I generally live by the Elmore Leonard quote “I leave out the parts that people skip”. If you were to compare the current draft of Faustina to one of my fanfiction stories, I’d like to think that you’d find it a bit less choppy and more richly (if briefly) described, but still pretty skimmable. One of my many, many worries about this novel is that it won’t be “booky” enough – I learned to write by writing fanfiction and I feel like that has influenced my writing. But, if this is really the way the tide is turning, perhaps that’s a good thing.

In terms of the bigger picture, I imagine that serious literary types are wringing their hands over the death of writing as an art. Indeed, the Guardian article links to one (note: that article is well over 3000 words long and hell yes I skimmed it). I’m not going to try and tackle that on an intellectual level, because I’m writing this at 1AM and I don’t really want to, but what I will say is that writing is evolving all the time. We don’t write like Chaucer any more, or Shakespeare, or Dickens. They were of their time, as everyone is. They’re still perfectly readable today (Chaucer might be a bad example) but they’re best understood in context. Today’s context is connectedness and distractions and shareable content and I don’t see what’s wrong with that influencing the way we write. More importantly, one of the great things about the indie marketplace is that you can write whatever and however you want and people can decide whether or not to read it. As long as there are writers and readers who favour denser, more literary writing, it won’t go anywhere. And if that style of writing ever does fade away, that’s okay too. It’ll be in good company.