I Have a Plan

A cunning plan. How cunning? You could tie a tail on it and call it a weasel. (Yes, I’m sort of quoting Black Adder. I’m that old.)

As I’ve been watching my sales and reading about the sales of others in this brave new e-book world, I’ve noticed some interesting trends.  I’ve watched people promote their little hearts out and then cry about no sales.  I’ve watched people stick up what I like to call “ugly” books (bad cover, bad blurb etc) and cry about no sales.  I’ve watched books I would think were the slightly better-looking cousins of “ugly” books sell like crazy.  I’ve watched books that were actually “ugly” books in disguise sell better than things I thought were actually worth reading.  I’ve watched as my literary short stories under a name with zero internet profile out-sell my SF/F titles 5 and sometimes 10 to 1.

Basically… no one knows what will sell and why.  We’ve got the four principles that Konrath and others go by: Good Book, Good Cover, Good Blurb, Low Price.  I’ve seen plenty of titles with the magic four sell very few copies.  Maybe they will be slower to take off, maybe those writers need to just keep at it and good things will happen (what one might call the DWS principle.)  I don’t know.

One thing I would add to the above however, is “write in a popular genre”.  Now, one might argue that good writing will find an audience, and I believe that.  But would you rather aim at an audience of thousands, or hundreds of thousands?  Does genre really matter?  It’s hard to say.  Mystery and Romance are very popular genres, but there are also a ton of books written in those genres  (Romance on Kindle has more books than Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Horror combined).  Chicken, egg, right?

But hey, what would be the point of experimenting in this awesome new world if I couldn’t run some tests.  So here’s what I’m planning:

I’m going to write ten novellas (20-30k words each).  Five in SF/F and five in Romance.  When all ten are done (by end of September, hopefully), I’ll stick them all up online at the same time, for the same price.  I intend to do zero promotion of the titles for six months (other than mentioning them here so that people will know when the experiment goes live).  I would say that the Romance ones would be at a disadvantage since they won’t be under the name that has an internet presence, but my lit fic doesn’t seem to suffer from being under a pen name so I’m going to rule that the name doesn’t matter (it isn’t like I’m anybody anyway).  I will do my best to make sure each novella has an awesome cover, a great blurb, and is of course an awesome book.  And then I’ll sit back and watch and see how the numbers do.

My prediction, right now? The Romances will out-sell the SF/F titles 10-1.  That’s my early prediction.

See? Isn’t this new world fun?  All kinds of crazy experiments to run! *grin*

10 Responses to “I Have a Plan”

  1. Brad R. Torgersen

    Given the “noise” factor, I fear many indie novelists and story writers have become obssessed with how to game the system. I’m not sure I have the time and energy for all that. The five novelettes I’ve posted to e-pub to date are novelettes I enjoyed writing, and I enjoyed doing their covers, and anything I can get out of them beyond that is kind of “cream” for me because I’m also not depending solely on these to make my bank for me.

    Which is probably the other thing I see happening too much: writers deliberately cutting themselves out of the traditional money stream for ideological — rather than practical — reasons. My goodness, if you can make money both ways, by all means, make money both ways. And realize that whether you’re doing e-pub or traditional, almost nobody is going to rocket to independent wealth overnight. Everything is about consistency, accumulation, slow build, and so forth.

    Thus I am definitely taking a tortoise vs. hare strategy. I’m routing projects through trad pub, and I am routing projects through e-pub. I’m focusing on regular output both directions — where schedule and mitigating factors allow — and I’m employing some fisherman’s patience. Unless my craft mysteriously goes south on me, I ought to be able to attract some interest and some business over time. Trad pub, e-pub, they should — in theory — reinforce each other.

    Anyway, your experience with your literary e-pub sales is quite fascinating. Makes me wonder what the ratio of e-pub activity is right now, across various genres? Which genres are getting flooded with material, which are not, and where is the largest body of paying consumers getting the least amount of electronic content? Whatever the case, you seem to be experiencing some slow build for which the quality of the stories themselves serve as an explanation. Because it’s certainly not a promotional thing.

    • izanobu

      I totally agree that trad and indie should, in theory, build on each other. It is my hope that good stories will find an audience and (without sounding too vain here, I hope) I think my own indie experience is proving that, albeit slowly. I don’t really like promotion. I’m not very good at putting myself out there and I find it easier to just go write, hence I’ll never be one of the heavy promoters since I think you have to have some enthusiasm for it or you just come off as spammy and fake.

      That’s why I’m testing out the things I can play with, ie covers, genres, blurbs, etc. What I put up and how it is presented are all things I have control over. What happens after that isn’t something I can control. Hopefully I’ll find things that work and my stories will keep gaining more readers each month (though I doubt the doubling of sales will continue, as awesome as that would be). Putting up stuff in multiple genres to see what happens is part of the things I can control. What happens after that, well, I can’t control that. Readers will find my work though, that I have faith in because I keep watching my sales trickle in each month despite me doing little to no promotion.

      And yeah, I’m sure there are plenty of people who would look at my sales numbers and hold me up as proof that indie publishing doesn’t work, but fuck em. Each month I sell more than the last with a general growth and I’m starting to make money enough to cover a bill or two. That’s encouraging, considering I put in pretty much no work after the story is posted. It becomes passive income at that point. My job is to write and practice my craft. It’s my hope the tortoise that you describe, Brad, is what will win this race. I think the key is still to write, write more, write better, and write some more.

  2. David Barron

    I support this experiment, and might even join you. DATA, we need DATA.

    • izanobu

      We do need data, desperately. I’d run the experiment in more genres if I had the time and ideas. Over time I will, because I’m planning novels in at least the Action & Adventure category and the Mystery/Thriller/Suspense categories, but I’m going with novellas here because I can write them in a week, so I can get the experiment off the ground that much faster.

      Do join me, if you can. I always want more DATA! 🙂

  3. Thomas K. Carpenter

    Cool idea, Annie.

    I think one of the reasons your lit short story is outselling the others is because it’s been put on some frequented websites as “top reads of 2010”. Basically, you sold the story to one of the 10% of the population that’s a tastemaker and the other 90% are following.

    And I think that’s why writers that have all four JAK points (book, cover, blurb and price) sometimes don’t see upward movement for their books. Because no one knows about them.

    Eventually, given time, people will find the good stuff, but the time factor is unknown and requires a little luck to get your books the “right” person(s).

    I’m not going to really evaluate my progress until next March. At that point, I will have almost ten novels up and a bunch of shorts/novellas/short-collections. Then, based on that data, I’ll be able to refine my plans. Of course, I’ll have to refine them again on a regular basis, but I think that time frame will give me a decent snapshot of my progress.

    As for promotion, I only do things that have a high value to time ratio. If I can get it out quickly without spending time then I’m willing to do it. For me, those are items like sending review requests and occasional free book promotions (though I’m not going to do that extensively until I have more product up). I’ve also sent free books to a few “tastemakers” I’ve picked out that I hope, if they like them, would pass along the recommendation. I’ve only done a few and only recently, so its too early to tell how that strategy is working.

    Anyway, love the sharing of information. I’ll try to add what I’ve learned to it.


    • izanobu

      Wait, which story has been picked as a top read of 2010? I hadn’t noticed that. Also, I have THREE literary stories that sell more than my SF/F stuff, not just one. So it can’t just be that one story got noticed. For some reason those stories just seem to sell. (also, this has ALWAYS been true. Even before my lit stuff had any reviews.)

      I have seen better results with my SF/F stuff overall by putting out .99 short stories. I think there’s a large group of people who just like to buy things that cost .99 because hey, less than a buck. My hope is that my other things have been getting some sales because of the quality of my .99 short stories.

      Really, as long as my sales increase from month to month, I’m happy. It’s a long-term plan, not an get rich quick one. 🙂

  4. thomaskcarpenter

    I thought you’d seen that? I can’t remember what review site it was. It was one of the many I submitted reviews to and it had one of your stories on a banner listed as the site’s favorite stories of 2010 (or something like that). The “must reads” from the site. Do a little google searching and you’ll find it I think.


    • izanobu

      Was it Red Adept Reviews? They gave one of my stories 5 stars. But that story is my third best selling story. Crazy, eh? 🙂

  5. Tara Maya

    I’m very surprised to learn that literary sells so well. I mean, I know sf isn’t the most popular genre, and I would easily believe romance or erotica would outsell it… but I thought literary had an even smaller audience. (Like 6% or something.) How long are your literary short stories?

    Tara Maya
    The Unfinished Song: Initiate

    • izanobu

      They range from 3000 words (the ones that are bundled into a 2 story volume) to 7,400. The ones that sell the most are 5400 and 7400 words each. The three that sell the most all deal with love or the consequences of love in some way, so that might be the selling point, I don’t know (though they aren’t really romance stories, more discovering self/learning hard lessons stories).

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