Retrospective thoughts on the post-release of my debut fiction

It took me a little over two years to complete my debut erotic romance fiction Quest For Second Sex. While I was finishing it, I was getting quite anxious about making a mark as a fiction writer in the publishing world, expecting it to be well received by readers. I was not thinking of making any windfall gains but simply of the name and fame I would be getting as a writer. To me, earning the credential as a ‘well-known and established author’ is way more important than making money. Writing is my passion – everything else is immaterial.

On July 28, 2016, Amazon/Kindle released the digital version of this 650-page fiction, priced at $5.99. A week later, Amazon/CreateSpace released the print version, priced at $21.99. I now could call myself as a published author. The next exciting moment was to see how well would this fiction sell. Would its sale fly as a rocket or simply fizzle out before even its lift-off? It was a wait-and-see game.

Now almost after two months, with both digital and print sales moderate, falling short of perhaps my unrealistic high expectations, I am beginning to mull over the outcome – even though it’s only over a very short-term.

In this post, I want to share my thoughts and post-release lessons learnt with my friends including new and experienced writers as well as non-writers.

Retrospective thoughts on the post-release
This moderate sale can be attributed to several factors. The first and foremost is the sheer size of competition any new fiction faces as hundreds of thousands of new titles of fictions and non-fictions (in both digital and print versions) are released the world over each year. Statistically speaking, on Amazon alone, there is a new title released every five minutes (derived simply by dividing the number of minutes in a year by the number of new titles released in a year). Since there’s a limited number of readers with limited discretionary funds available for non-essentials, and if you further divide these readers by the type of genre they like, there’s even more limited number of potential readers of any specific genre including an erotic romance (need I explain that the sale of fiction of a particular genre depends on the number of its potential readers/buyers). Again, given a choice, these readers would likely prefer to purchase a book authored by their favourite and/or established author. In this kind of scenario, the odds of success for a new and self-publishing author are very limited.

Keep in mind though that all presently established writers were also first-timers at some point in time and faced the same crunching issue of breaking into the market. They turned out to be very successful by dint of their hard work – producing two to even three fictions a year – and effectively enhanced their credentials, and eventually dominate the fiction market. And, as success breeds success, their rapid turn overs of fictions make them economically gainful targets of large commercial publishers. Authors – established or first-timers – whose work is published by commercial publishers don’t have to sweat about editing, printing, distribution, and marketing of their books. Publishers’ staff take care of these tasks, freeing writers to write and write for them. These writers take the lion’s share of the revenue generated by the fiction market. Indeed, the number of such authors is very small – as evident by the low success rate in publishing. The rate varies between ten and twenty percent (depending on the genre).

Self-published authors, on the other hand, have to take care of everything from the inception of the idea for a book to its eventual writing, printing and marketing. Since writing and marketing are two different concepts and require different sets of skills, most self-published writers aren’t good in marketing their crafty outputs. They ultimately depend on professional marketeers at a cost which, in turn, varies with the reputation of the ad agency they chose to go with. These marketeers are largely tech-savvy people who would market products on all kinds of social media including the Facebook, Twitter, Google+, YouTube, Instagram – you name it. Writers could do the same job and save a bundle of money if they were equally able to use these marketing tools.

In the absence of these tools, self-published authors have very limited ways to attract readers’ attention to their books: like an attention grabbing title, customized visually attractive cover, professionally edited and printed, with persuasive synopsis – to name some. Based on a combination of these markers and a quick browsing (on the internet or elsewhere), readers make a decision to purchase a self-published author’s book (unless they are friends, acquaintances, or family members of that author). On the other hand, for an established author, his/her name alone is enough to motivate readers to buy his/her book – as they likely build collection and/or follow his/her work closely. In marketing terms, that author’s name and brand play important roles.

Besides heavy competition and lack of right skills to use social media for marketing, the moderate sale of my fiction thus far can be attributed to its larger than average size (650 pages), and its associated high price ($5.99 for digital/$21.99 for print version). While I was writing, I didn’t even think about the size, or the number of pages I would have at the end. The first time I was made aware of this issue and its consequences was when my editor submitted the book at Amazon and was told that the fiction exceeded the company’s set limit of 828 pages (for 6″ x 9″ format). That meant I had to chop down the fiction by more than 100 pages. At that time, I thought of splitting the fiction into three parts and eventually sell it as a boxed-set of three. But I couldn’t do it. I wanted to preserve the continuity of development of characters as well as the cohesiveness of the story. As a novice author, these issues were very important to me.

Lessons learnt
The moderate sale of my debut fiction has taught me some important lessons for my second fiction (to be out by this time next year). The first and foremost is to keep its size short, and as a result, its price low. I shouldn’t out-price myself as the high-price in itself limits or even negates the sale (imagine, digital at $5.99 competing against $1.99 or $0.99, or print at $21.99 against an average between $10.00 and $15.00 for POD). I will, of course, have an attractive customized cover done by an artist, as well as have it professionally edited and formatted for print – like I did for this fiction. I wouldn’t rush to self-publish it like I did for the first one. I would rather follow the conventional route and see it published by a commercial publisher and save myself the time and agony of looking after other tasks. However, if I end up self-publishing it, then I myself will market it rather than depend on paid help. To that effect, I have started learning the marketing tools used in today’s social media, including LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and personal blogging. Put simply, I am using my current fiction as a guinea-pig in all trials and errors – unavoidable in any learning process. Just yesterday, I loaded a copy of my fiction at Instagram, a specially designed flyer on the Facebook, have opened up a Twitter account – as most of these tools are interactive. At times, the learning process is very frustrating, but I am keeping my cool because I know the use of these tools would eventually help me diversify my writing business.

Selling of books is not new to me. After all, I ran a mail-order business for ten years – selling skill-development products including books authored by other writers. I sold products from coast-to-coast. Now I have to sell my own books and products in the face of rapidly changing and challenging technology.

Your comments on this or any other post on this site are always welcome.

Tags Self-publishing Book marketing Pricing Marketing tools Social media Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Instagram Commercial publisher Digital book