Why isn’t this book selling? First, let’s rule out a few variables.

1) The writing blows goats.

As mentioned, I’ve already sold most of these stories somewhere. You know how hard it is to sell a single story, anywhere? Even to a market that pays the princely sum of $10? It’s pretty fucking hard! Even those markets reject 90-99% of the stories they see. They get a lot of material and only buy the stuff they really like. That doesn’t mean what they buy is the awesomest thing since dinosaurs fighting with shotguns, but it does imply a baseline quality. Either the writing or the story or both were enough to hook an editor who reads scores of stories a month. I’m not gonna get all “Kneel before Zod” here, but I’d put the writing in When We Were Mutants & Other Stories up against the average self-pubbed Kindle title no worries.

2) The packaging (title, description, cover art, etc.) is the blowful part.

The price is $1.99. That’s right in line with this market. Still, I’m dropping it to $0.99 to see if that changes anything.

Whatever else you might think of the book, you gotta admit that’s a sweet title.

I’ve written several hundred movie reviews in the last three years. I know how to write a hook. The description may not sell ice to a wampa, but it’s fine.

The cover art’s more subjective–it’s definitely not your run-of-the-mill “photograph of a hot chick with some huge sans serif text pasted over it”–but I happen to think it’s pretty damn cool. It’s eye-catching. It’s nontraditional, and maybe that’s turning people off, but I feel like it’s a great representation of the work.

3) I’m not a very talented whore.

I haven’t done a ton of self-promotion. This is true. But the places I’ve promoted it have been the right places. Result: nothing. I should send it out to some review blogs and see what happens there. I’m getting the impression recommendations from trusted sources are a big factor in selling unknown works. That, uh, may not be news to anyone.

Here’s some variables that might make a difference.

1) It’s a short story collection.

Konrath, and nearly all the self-pubbed authors I’ve seen, sell novels. Maybe people hate reading short stories. Maybe short stories threw sand in their faces as children. Maybe, for some reason, customers aren’t interested in buying them when there’s all these actual novels available just a click away. I could address that by listing a previous novel of mine and seeing how that does, but I’m kind of busy with this detailed dissection of a niche subject right now.

2) I’ve only got the one work available.

Konrath writes about success coming from “shelf space,” or having a number of different titles for readers to find, get engaged by, and scoop up the rest of your work. I think this is a really strong point, actually. Single-title self-pubbers may find it much more difficult than people with 3+ books online.

3) My fiction career doesn’t have much of a platform.

I suspect this might be the biggest fly in the ointment of selling your work to strangers. Thing is, if you’ve already got a decent chunk of readers, they’re not really strangers anymore. They’ll pick up your book on your recommendation. Suckers. These suckers, in turn, will recommend it to their friends and communities. Hooray! Sales!

I’ve actually got the opportunity to increase my platform here by a ways, which I intend to do just as soon as I’ve beaten The Legend of Zelda: The Twilight Princess again. Hyrule’s in danger, people.

Conclusions, Week One

Caveat: these are preliminary conclusions based on an initial week of data. That’s very little info, really. At this point, Shit Is Subject To Change.

I’m honestly not disappointed in these results. My expectations were low–people can’t shut up about ebooks these days, and I wanted to see for myself what it’s like to actually try to sell one.

However, it seems to me that ebooks do not, despite all buzz to the contrary, sell themselves. To achieve sales, you need either a preexisting readership or to do a lot of self-promotion. Again, this really isn’t news, but I mean you need that just to sell a copy. So far I could sell more books through bagpiping in the subway than by listing them on Kindle.

My initial suspicion is the amount of time you need to spend self-promoting is not going to be worth it. For authors seeking a career, that time is, in almost all cases, better spent writing, or at least pitching your writing to agents and editors. Because until you reach critical mass, you will have to keep pumping your own work All. The. Time. Self-promotion is a hydratic beast with an empty belly. It demands constant nourishment or it will eat you instead.

Well, possibly not, at least about the eating you part. Again, my opinions could change if the data does. But for now–and Konrath says this himself, to his credit, though possibly he should say it more often–the self-epubbing route is not a game-changer for those of us who aren’t already established. In fact, so far it resembles the bulk of my fiction career: a bushel of effort for a withered cherry of financial gain.

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I am a Science Fiction and Fantasy author, based in LA. Read More.
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