Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Success In Self-Publishing: Data, How-To's

It's July and self-publishing is mid-summer's hot topic. Forgive me for highlighting this category two Wednesdays in a row, but last week's Publishers Weekly offered two articles that are hard to resist as pass-along info of interest.

First, Kelly Gallagher, v.p. of publisher services at Bowker (the world's leading provider of bibliographic information management solutions designed to help publishers, booksellers, and libraries better serve their customers), attended the uPublishU conference just before the official opening of this summer's BookExpo America (BEA) in New York. Her findings as reported in Taking the Measure of Self-Publishing:

  • the self-publishing market is surging: 211,269 titles published (based on registered ISBNs) in 2011, vs. 133,036 in 2010.
  • nonfiction and paperbacks do best in this market: nonfiction accounts for only 22% of sales by units, but 38% of sales by dollars; paperbacks account for 47% of sales by units and 75% of sales by dollars
  • the average price paid accounts for nonfiction's strength: with easily the highest price consumers were willing to pay, at an average of $19.32; the average price for fiction was $6.94, the lowest among all segments
  • women bought more self-pubbed books than men (62% vs. 38%), but men spent more money on them (56% of sales). Why? Men buy more expensive books—academic/professional and nonfiction titles, than women
  • e-books are a close second to paperbacks, selling 41% of units sold, but account for only 11% of dollar sales (avg. price of e-books: $3.18, vs. $12.68 for paperbacks and $14.40 for hardbacks)
  • unit sales by segment: fiction—45%; nonfiction—22%; juvenile—11%; religion—5%; academic/professional—15%; sci//tech/med—2%
  • average price by genre: fiction—$6.94; nonfiction—$19.32; juvenile—$9.47; religion—$12.93; academic/professional—$13.24; sci/tech/med—$8.77

The second article is from a romance author (Rachel Abbott) who shares her story of how she went from deciding to self publish with Amazon after failing to get an agent to becoming #1 on the Amazon list for four weeks. In My Bestselling Story, she tells what the key elements were to going from nowhere in her self-publishing effort, to success.

Key among them:

  • writing a marketing plan: "the single most important thing that I did" It gave her structure, a set of priorities and some specific targets. Everything listed after this is part of the marketing plan.
  • identifying, within the marketing plan, which 'channels' were best for people to buy her book (She chose Amazon U.K. as her # 1 target because the book is set in London and Oxfordshire and there was potential for word-of-mouth buzz
  • visibility: web site, blog, Twitter, Facebook. She says one thing Amazon does really well is provide 'lots of opportunities for making a book visible.' She chose the following Amazon visibility options: 'customers who bought this book also bought...' and 'Browse Kindle Books.' In both instances, Rachel says the key is that if you have done everything else right, visibility results in people starting to buy your book. She talks about how to understand using the Amazon capabilities for visibility. Key point: visibility "is only important if people want to buy your book when they've discovered it—and that's why your product description is so important. Make it count. It needs to be as good as the blurb on the back cover of a printed book, not a one-line description."
  • reviews: she used Amazon's 'browse by average review' option successfully by sending formal review requests to book bloggers and producing a professional review request that provided all the details of her book. Good reviews will make a real difference, she says.
  • ways to find readers who love your sort of book to spread the word: Twitter. She suggests following people who follow authors in your genre that you admire. Many will follow you back. To find these people, use hashtags to find people who are reading books like yours. Do this before your book is launched. If a few buy your book, the linking begins. Also, Online Forums. She used Goodreads and Amazon. Again, the key was when people she met there talked about her book on other forums.
  • price and discounts: pricing does play an important role. She originally set the price at $2.99, then dropped it to $1.99 as a promotion for a limited period. It worked. (she also took only a 35% royalty during the promotion period) When her book reached #1 in the U.K. on Amazon, she waited a few days, then raised the price back to the original level. At that point she was selling over 3,000 copies/day.

If you've gone the indie route, do these factors resonate with you? Anything to add?


  1. Thanks for sharing all the stats and info on self-published authors. It's great to see more viable options for authors.

    1. Yes, Natalie, there are certainly plenty of legit choices these days, and ways to navigate them. Understanding the business side of it seems essential no matter which choice we make.

  2. They definitely do resonate. A word to the wise though, going indie is not for the faint of heart and it isn't an easy way to publishing. If anything it is much harder. A great editor and cover designer are also keys to success.

    1. Excellent points,Heather. Editors, covers--critical! Thanks for weighing in!