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A Self-Publishing Reality Check

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First off, SOTS: Book Two is almost done! I'm hoping to have it on Amazon by late Summer 2013 - in both paperback and ebook. It's been a real challenge to finish this series, but extremely fulfilling. I really think the second is even better than the first installment, so I'm extremely happy with it. I'm looking forward to finishing this long journey, and taking a much deserved break from writing.

I received an interesting email/question this week from another writer about an old post: A Kindle Promotion Post-Mortem. So I decided to write a followup.

I had no pervious intention of writing this post, to deliver the bad news or sound pessimistic about self-publishing. However, since I apparently hyped up my success with Amazon's KDP Select promotion, I feel obligated to offer some fresh perspective.

Back in September 2012, I successfully gave away 10,900 copies of my first ebook, Season of the Serpent: Book One, for free. Kind of a bizarre statement, right?

"Why do you want to give your book away for free?" some people might ask.

What I've found is that nothing else works. Marketing doesn't work. Advertising doesn't work. Blogging doesn't work. (I have another blog where I've accumulated 100,000 hits since December, but have sold relatively few books.) Tweeting doesn't work. Videos on Youtube don't work. You are probably wasting your money if you are an author paying for any of these services. The only way to get any exposure as a self-published author is to give away a sample for free where people are looking for new books - on Amazon.

To answer this writer's question - I attempted to reproduce those results a few months later, signing up for another exclusive three month engagement with Amazon. This time I spaced out my five free days in December 2012, using most of them right after Christmas. I figured Christmas would be the perfect time to give away ebooks, as new Kindle owners would be downloading ebooks like crazy. In total, I only managed to give away 450 ebooks.

I'm not sure why the second promotion was so unsuccessful. I certainly had many more positive reviews by then. However, I wasn't as aggressive about doing any pre-promotion or advertising this time. Perhaps it was the same group of people looking for freebies, who had already downloaded the book before. Perhaps there were just too many other free ebooks competing for attention.

Each of these promotions provided me with a nice sales bump, but months later, any significant bump has flatlined. I decided not to try any more free promotions until Book Two was finished.

The new reality of self-publishing is that everyone is doing it. The market is completely over-saturated. You can no longer expect to simply give away your ebook for free and expect results. Just like the gold rush days of California, at first it was just a few lucky prospectors, then it was an avalanche of gold diggers. Everyone has gotten in on the act, and there is no more easy gold to be found.

Of course, there are certainly exceptions, but for the vast majority of us self-publishing these days, we are needles in an ever-expanding haystack. Sorry aspiring writers, this is the new reality. Everybody has a book inside them to sell. More often than not, I meet someone, mention that I have a book on Amazon, and then they tell me about their idea for a book. Naturally, they want advice, but most won't bother to listen to it. They have their dream, just as I had my dream. Now there are entire industries popping up on the internet, selling their services to help them achieve it, and it's not cheap.

An odd thing has been happening recently. I haven't been selling any books, but my raking hasn't really dropped. This means that no one is selling very many ebooks. Amazon is so bloated with ebooks, they aren't moving. Only the best-sellers are moving. Then another odd thing happened. I suddenly found myself in a brand new category - Fantasy:Metaphysical and Visionary. I didn't ask for it, they just put my book in this new category. What's more, after just one sale I was ranked #74 in this new category. After a second sale, I moved to #54. So obviously Amazon is aware of the problem and they are adding more categories to make it easier for readers to discover and buy more ebooks.

So how do you sell books? Nobody really knows anymore. Don't be suckered by the people sending you emails, selling you a marketing plan. You need to find some unique way to break out from the pack and get noticed. That sounds more like a reality show contestant to me. I'm just not enough of a self-promoter to abase myself over and over again, hoping to get noticed. That's not why I write my books.

I have a small group of readers who loved my first book and can't wait to read the second one. That's what motivates me to finish it. I'm hopeful that I will see some return on my investment when the second book goes on sale. At this point, short of a miracle, that's the best I can hope for - my investment returned, a personal accomplishment achieved, and the satisfaction of providing a few readers with a great story.

Some of those 11,350 people who downloaded the first book for free will buy the second one at full price, $2.99. I'm hopeful that a sales bump for Book Two will help sell Book One. I'm hopeful that if I choose to make Book One free again, it will eventually sell a few copies of Book Two. We shall see, but I'm not going to quit my day job any time soon.
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