About a year ago, I began experimenting with epublishing. It hasn't made me rich. It hasn't bumped me into a higher tax bracket. It hasn't even brought in enough money to pay for the new transmission I just found out our minivan needs. (And a happy Thanksgiving to you, Mazda Motor Corporation!)
Yet three e-collections I've been pretty lax about promoting are now buying my family's groceries, and that counts for something. (To be specific, it counts for about $400 a month.) Of those three ebooks, one has been (by the low standards I set for my experiment) a hit, one has been a slow but steady earner and one has been a complete disaster. That's enough of a range for me to declare Phase 1 of the experiment complete. I've collected enough data to draw conclusions. Such as:
(1) If you're an established author and you haven't started self-pubbing your short stories and/or out-of-print novels, you're even worse at business than I am. Quite demonstrably. Because I suck at business, yet I'm making money that you, too, could be making with just the slightest effort. I also suck at techno mumbo-jumbo, but that didn't stop me. It wasn't hard to find reliable folks who could format and design my ebooks for a reasonable price. That's why two of my collections turned a profit just a couple weeks after going on sale. (One's a disaster, remember? But more on that in a second.)
(2) Concept is key. Not surprisingly, my bestselling self-published ebook is Dear Mr. Holmes, a collection of stories connected to my Holmes on the Range mystery series. It's got a built-in audience and a hooky premise (cowboys use the methods of Sherlock Holmes to solve crimes in the Old West). The book's subtitle -- Seven Holmes on the Range Mysteries -- does almost all of the selling for me. My next most-successful e-effort, Naughty, has a strong hook (stories about Christmas-themed crimes) though not the pre-existing fanbase. So it sells O.K., but not at the same pace. And the disaster...well, we're getting to that....
(3) 99 cents for an ebook is a really good deal -- and a really bad idea. Both Dear Mr. Holmes and Naughty cost $2.99. At that price, they were profitable after selling 250 and 150 downloads, respectively. (Dear Mr. Holmes was more expensive to put out because there's a print edition -- which very quickly paid for itself, by the way. So that's another lesson learned. I just don't feel like bolding it and giving it its own number.) But what if I put out an even cheaper ebook? Could increased sales from bargain-loving Kindleers boost a title into the black even faster? The answer: maybe...but not if you're offering up a short story collection with no discernible theme other than a naked plea for money. Which brings us to my dogs -- the one that's furry and cute and that one that's an epubbing catastrophe.
(4) Do not give your ebooks jokey titles like My Dog Needs Surgery. Because guess what? My dog still needs surgery. The collection I put out to try to raise money for her has actually managed to lose money. In hindsight, it's not a shock. (A) The book's name doesn't tell people anything about what they're buying. (B) The book's cover doesn't tell people anything about what they're buying. And (C) at 99 cents a pop (33 cents of which goes to me), I need to sell nearly 1,000 downloads just to cover the cost of the cover and formatting. I'd hoped that the wacky story of an author putting out a book on behalf of his dog would have a little viral life to it, but nope. Despite some much-appreciated cheerleading from a few online pals, word didn't spread. But that's O.K. My dog's going to get her surgery some day. Because I've learned.
(5) Even without the kind of 24-7 self-pimpage that gives me the heebie-jeebies, I can put out an ebook that finds an audience and quickly pays for itself -- so long as it has the right concept, cover and price. I know, I know. Seems pretty obvious, doesn't it? But it wasn't so obvious to me a year ago.
Now -- on to Phase 2.