Gotta Wear Shades

Last week I received my royalty statements for the period January to June 2011.

Yeah, I know it's November, but you remember the publishing industry works on glacial time right?

Anyway, late or not, the statements brought a smile to my face.

Not immediately, you understand. For anyone who has never seen a royalty statement they are possibly the most complicated documents known to man. And I say that as a lawyer in my previous life. So obviously it took me half an hour of knitted eyebrow gymnastics to work out even the basics of what is going on with my books, before the smile broke out.

And no, before Mr Black starts packing for Rio, it wasn't because I'd just sold my millionth copy.

The reason was that for the first time my ebook sales outweighed my paperback sales.

For some time now we've all been told that the digital revolution was on its way. That the ebook reader was about to take its place alongside the ipod. And like many a writer I've been somewhat sceptical. Would the general public really want to read novels from a screen?

The answer seems to be a decided yes...which in turn has made me consider a number of other convictions I've held.

I've always said, and there's no point denying it, that distribution was the key to selling books in any numbers. I've ranted here for example, about authors who have been dropped by their publishers for poor sales when their books never made it into the shops.

My view has always been that the main way to sell books is to have them out there. That the public need to see them. Sure, the punters will go to Amazon et al for a bargain, but what they are buying online are the books that are visible in the shops.

Well hang on a moment. My royalty statement tells me that my very first book, Damaged Goods, has been flying off the eshelves. This, a novel, that was published five years ago and, as far as I can tell, isn't in any shops at the moment.

So what is it that is making people buy them? I'd like to say I'm a household name, but I'm not that delusional. So what is making people who have probably never heard of me buy my oldest book?

The answer seems to be a clever viral campaign by my publishers, very low pricing (readers will take a chance on things they haven't shelled out too much for) and high ranking on Amazon. The latter of course is a self fullfilling prophesy; the more you sell the higher you rank, the higher you rank, the more you sell.

When readers have emailed saying they liked DG, I've asked them how they came to buy it and quite a number have confirmed that they saw it in the top ten female detective list on Amazon and given it was selling for a couple of quid, they thought what the hell.

Now sales at low prices aint ever going to make me rich, I'll grant you. A percentage of fuck all is...well you get the picture. But if a section of this new audience likes what I do and goes on to buy my other stuff, then it's absolutely worth it to me.

All this has also made me reconsider whether self published authors can make a success of it. In the past, I'd have said no. That without the sales and marketing team of a publishing house behind them, an author can't get the necessary distribution. But does that still hold true? If a self published author produced an ebook, marketed it aggressively online and sold it for a song could they sell in numbers? Thre answer in truth is I don't know.

The times they are a-changing. And I think I like it.


Patsy said...

The answer to your last question is yes - it has been done by John Locke.

Helen Black said...

That's true Patsy.

But as far as I'm aware, John Locke was already a well known business man and millionaire who used his considerable resources to market his books.

I guess what I was really wondering was whether your average Joe (with no resources or contacts) could do it and sell in respectable numbers.
HB x

DT said...

Hi Helen, I enjoyed your post and think that low-pricing ebooks is just another factor - neither good nor bad in itself. I had a mini ebook (a 5000 word short story) come out last month and it's already clear to me that rankings and word-of-mouth will be the important factors. That and prayer candles!

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Helen, that's really interesting, and surprising too. What did your publishers do to get all these e-sales? Something canny, clearly.

Fionnuala said...

Hmmm, food for thought... x

Geraldine Ryan said...

Interesting post, Helen.

Stephen said...

Hands up Helen, I have never heard of you before. I was on the Kindle website and saw your Damaged Goods for just 99p. I read the product description, liked it and splashed out my pound.

I like a bargain and will try an author I have not read before if the price is right. I think your high sales were prompted by the price reduction, it is simple market forces.

I liked Damaged Goods and wrote my opinion of it on my blog .