To the chagrin of my engineer dad and loan agent mom, I’ve never been good at math. For a guy who writes sci fi and tech thrillers, my inability is a crime. I need a calculator to check my sons’ homework; to determine radio delays between Earth and Jupiter; to pursue enemy planes with F/A-18 Super Hornets; and to obsessively tally my income as a 21st Century writer.
Because my strength is words, not numbers, I’ve been careful in setting benchmarks.
No fuzzy-headed artiste am I. I’m a businessman, albeit one whose morning commute consists of stepping across the hallway from his bedroom to his office, typically without shaving, much less changing out of his sweatpants and Niners jersey.
When I self-published The Frozen Sky, I told my wife I wanted to sell 20,000 copies during its first year to consider it a success.
By now, everyone knows the drill.
The give was I expected extremely low print sales despite making a trade paperback available through Amazon. Print is still king, and the chains can’t sort through the zombie hordes of self-published authors. They aren’t set up for it. Alas, you’re also fooling yourself if you expect independent stores to stock your self-pubbed title in print. I personally know a few store owners who were kind enough put copies on their shelves. I’m talking 10 books across North America. Yahoo. That’s ludicrous compared to a Big 6 publisher dumping 40,000 units on co-op racks nationwide. I’m missing a giant part of the market.
But here’s the take: Kindle, Nook, iPad and Kobo allow me to reach a significant slice of sci fi readers at almost zero cost. I paid $1300.00 for cover art and set up. Then I turned the book loose and went back to work.
The Frozen Sky did not quite see zero promotion. The good folks here at SF Signal have been great about letting me hyper-analyze my experiences so far, and I fielded a handful of other guest blogs or podcast interviews.
Nevertheless, I’m slightly infamous for being the guy who doesn’t spam the crap out of everybody I know (and don’t know) by living on FB and Twitter and Reddit and Goodreads and the Kindle Forums. I’m a family man. I’m constantly behind on my writing, editing, professional correspondence and fan mail – and I’m not complaining a bit. My life is freaking awesome. If you ping me about my work, you’ll get an enthusiastic response. I love to hear from real live people out there in the world. But I’m not interested in popularity contests or flamewars. I just don’t have the bandwidth. So I’m not online as much as I should be.
Looking to hire someone to make up for my lack, I spend another $120.00 on a promo package with BookBub, which came highly recommended by a friend.
Now I plan to do so again, and I’ll look into other e-promo sites. BookBub definitely goosed sales, although their schtick is they want a special sale price to advertise. That’s the downside. Pricing The Frozen Sky at $2.99 or $3.99, I earn 70% royalties of $1.90 – $2.55 each. (It’s not a small book, so I pay Amazon a “delivery fee” from my share. That’s fine. Kindle is their ballpark. I’m happy just to run around the bases.) Pricing at 99c for a BookBub run, I earn 35c, which ain’t even mmpb royalties, so according to my calculator, I need to sell six times as many copies at 99c to make an honest wage.
On the other hand, less money and more readers isn’t a bad trade-off, because I still believe word-of-mouth is the best advertising.
The Frozen Sky is not an easy breezy cardboard thriller. The story is loaded with biology, geology, cybernetics, and the political and military chessboards of the near future. Hard sf is not everyone’s cup of tea. My favorite one-star review begins, and I quote, “Basically, it made absolutely no sense.”
Aha HA ha ha ha.
For the most part, though, reader response has been positive. From the cover, jacket copy, and blurbs by Niven and Steele, Frozen Sky doesn’t pretend to be anything it’s not, which is an important element in the writer-reader relationship. Give ‘em what they want.
If you like scary futuristic mind bends, I’m your guy. Tell your friends. And thank you to everyone who’s read and enjoyed it.
Roughly two thousand were at BookBub’s 99c special. Several thousand more were at $3.99. Less than a thousand combined were audio or print, but audiobooks are surprisingly lucrative. All told, my calculator says I averaged $1.97/copy with all formats and price points combined. Wow.
I’m not going to declare victory. 20,000 is a long way from the bestseller lists, and, eight months after its release, sales have slowed noticeably, but I can safely say the book made a lot of readers happy. That’s gratifying. Listening to the voices in my head is lonely work, so every thumbs-up is its own reward. It’s also hard to argue with making a living while doing what I love best – chasing aliens, battling Neanderthals, or stealing pentaquarks from mad scientists.