Thursday, January 10, 2013

Livin' the Ebook Dream

Self-publishing, baby! The newest form of a very old dream. Put up a couple of books, pay a Chinese outsourcing agency to put up some good reviews and links, and then go sit on the beach somewhere, only occasionally getting online to count your money!

Well, that's the theory, anyway. 

I'm deeply involved in ebook publishing, under a variety of different aliases. As I mentioned, the ETX books are only about half of my income, which has averaged between $1000 and $1500 a month since July of this year. (My first year of publishing got me about $100 - $200 a month.)

(I'm not quite ready to discuss my other projects yet. Soon, though.)

The reality is that it's a lot more work than you'd imagine. Writing is only part of it. You also have to --

1) edit the manuscript -- that is, look for typos, spelling and grammar problems, and hopefully somebody can advise you about which parts work and don't work, what's not clear, what doesn't  make sense, etc.

2) properly format the books so that they can be uploaded onto the publishing platforms (it's not that hard, but you still have to learn how to do it.) Amazon is the big one, of course, but there are four or five others like Smashwords, Kobo, etc, all with slightly different requirement for formatting 

3) get a cover -- as I said, different platforms have different rules and requirements, and that goes for covers, also.

4) market and advertise your books somehow


Now of course, you can pay people to do all that stuff, but even semi-pro editing and a cover would cost you like $1000 or more, and the average self-published ebook is unlikely to make that sort of money in a year of reasonable sales. 

Even pretty well-known travel-and-fucking independent ebook writers have sales ranks of 60 - 100,000, which means they sell maybe 40 - 60 books a month, max. If your book sells for $3.99, you get roughly $2.50 per copy from Amazon, an excellent deal by publishing standards. 

Still, to sell 60 books a month is a pretty remarkable achievement for a self-published writer -- somewhere between 10 - 30 is probably much more likely. You can do the math there.

Fortunately I have a couple of good editors who help me on a volunteer / trade services basis, and as we all know I am a spectacularly talented graphic designer, as we shall soon be reminded. 


I never tried the "Chinese Gambit" of hiring an outsourcing agency for marketing, but an acquaintance tried it with her romance novels -- and the incoherent posts and reviews on totally inappropriate forums probably cost her more sales than they gained. (For example, "Please to buying this excellent novel of the college girl!" posted on a gamer forum.) 

That sort of thing tends to be extremely transparent, these days, and is probably pretty played out. Forums quickly ban people for that, too, and Amazon has been cracking down on such abuses in various ways. 

So you can do it yourself, under various sock puppet aliases -- or you can give away free copies of your book hoping for good reviews, that's the only thing I find myself with the stomach to do. Facebook is an incoherent mess, but I've advertised my shit there on various TEFL sites; maybe it helped a bit. 


Of course you can forge your online alliances with like-minded bloggers and so forth. Not really my speed, and as a general policy I neither link nor post comments often, but I've made a few connections that have promoted my shit. (And of course I've irritated and angered a few more.) 

Managing your online presence is something I dislike and takes a lot of time -- I avoid public connections with groups because I don't want to be involved in the public flame wars (or whatever they call them these days) when the groups fall out. (And they always do.)

The biggest help in marketing is Amazon's free "Customers Who Bought this Also Bought" Matrix. But Amazon has some strangely capricious policies about blocking / removing works that don't "meet our content guidelines" -- if some little old lady objects to the language in your book and clicks a button on your Amazon page, your book can actually get blocked. Amazon usually won't explain why, and you can usually re-upload things, but by then it will have disappeared from the sales ranking and "Customers Who Bought This" matrix, and you have to start the whole annoying process again.


Anyway -- you can work at home, or work anywhere, as a self-published writer, but writing is still work. And fairly lonely and time-consuming work, at that. And all the marketing and publishing shit, that's a fucking pain in the ass, generally, and either takes a lot of time or costs a lot of money.

(Of course, it's pretty clear that quite a few of this new breed of indie writer like internet marketing a lot more than they like writing. There's a whole generation out there that can't wipe their ass without trying to monetize it somehow.)

So while I was sitting on the beach in Costa Rica, yeah, I guess it kind of felt like free money; but when I'm knocking away at it six or seven hours a day here in America, not so much. 


So I'm making a new edition of GUIDE TO TEACHING ENGLISH ABROAD, which will include a few new articles, some cartoons, and interviews with real English teachers. 

So if you want to be interviewed for the new edition, drop me a line at englishteacherx(at)yahoo(dot)com by the end of next week. I have some solid ones, but I would like to hear from some people who completely disagree with my views. Alas those people are unlikely to read this blog and write me, and my attempts to email various people who gave me bad reviews on Amazon have failed. 

And I'd like some comments on these new covers, which I realize range from the functional to the psychotic: 

Version # 1: Grey Pencil Sketch
Version # 2: Psychedelic
Version #3: Firebomb

Version #4: Clouds

Version #5: Candy Swirl

Version # 6: Metallic Zoom


Tim said...

I vote for #4.

Michelle said...

I vote #2 and by the way I loved your book To Travel Hopelessly

Anonymous said...


"That a writer, however zealous or eloquent, seldom works a visible effect upon cities or nations, will readily be granted. The book which is read most, is read by few, compared with those that read it not; and of those few, the greater part peruse it with dispositions that very little favour their own improvement.

It is difficult to enumerate the several motives which procure to books the honour of perusal: spite, vanity, and curiosity, hope and fear, love and hatred, every passion which incites to any other action, serves at one time or other to stimulate a reader.

Some are fond to take a celebrated volume into their hands, because they hope to distinguish their penetration, by finding faults which have escaped the publick; others eagerly buy it in the first bloom of reputation, that they may join the chorus of praise, and not lag, as Falstaff terms it, in "the reward of the fashion."

Some read for style, and some for argument: one has little care about the sentiment, he observes only how it is expressed; another regards not the conclusion, but is diligent to mark how it is inferred; they read for other purposes than the attainment of practical knowledge; and are no more likely to grow wise by an examination of a treatise of moral prudence, than an architect to inflame his devotion by considering attentively the proportions of a temple.

Some read that they may embellish their conversation, or shine in dispute; some that they may not be detected in ignorance, or want the reputation of literary accomplishments: but the most general and prevalent reason of study is the impossibility of finding another amusement equally cheap or constant, equally independent on the hour or the weather. He that wants money to follow the chase of pleasure through her yearly circuit, and is left at home when the gay world rolls to Bath or Tunbridge; he whose gout compels him to hear from his chamber the rattle of chariots transporting happier beings to plays and assemblies, will be forced to seek in books a refuge from himself.

The author is not wholly useless, who provides innocent amusements for minds like these. There are, in the present state of things, so many more instigations to evil, than incitements to good, that he who keeps men in a neutral state, may be justly considered as a benefactor to life."

Samuel Johnson

English Teacher X said...

Tru dat!

Foo Kin said...

Yeah, #2's the vicar's. Trip out man.

Twenty said...

#1 makes me hate you the least. Suggest that the bubbly white border around the "Practical Advice..." bit is a common flaw in all designs, though. Understand why it's there, but suggest and alternate tack (like not having a seizure-inducing background pattern) might be better.

English Teacher X said...

Yeah, that bubble bit is going; the cover will be some variation on number 1: one of my editors just yelled at me for not making it clear that the other ones are a joke.

English Teacher X said...

some variation of 2 or 5 will probably be the cover for my next book, which will be about Grammar. Seizure-inducing it is, but it certainly does draw the eye.

Dion said...

I liked cover #1 the best. Cover #3 didn't look bad either.