Taking stock

Posted by Paul Samael on Sunday, January 6, 2013 Under: Self-publishing
It’s now more than 18 months since I set up this website and over a year since my first attempt at self-publishing.  So I thought now might be a good point to consider whether it’s been a worthwhile exercise so far.

Downloads are a fairly crude measure of success/failure – but for what it’s worth, here are my numbers as at 6 January 2013:

UPDATE 8.2014:  I have now discovered that the stats from Scribd are pretty unreliable, so in the interests of accuracy, you should ignore the totals from that source i.e. the totals should be about 100-150 lower than actually stated above.  For more information on Scribd's stats, see this post.   

I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the performance of my novel.  Most first novels are thought to have done well if they sell over 1000 copies in their first year, so I feel that 1900+ downloads in just over 6 months isn’t bad for a free novel by an author no one has ever heard of.   Of course, a fairly hefty discount may well need to be applied to reflect the likelihood that (because it’s free) quite a few downloads may never get read.  But even if you  discount by say, 50%, the numbers still aren’t bad – they’re certainly a lot better than having a manuscript gathering dust in a drawer, unread by anyone.

It’s hard to say why the novel has done so much better than the other two pieces.  Length is probably a factor.  My impression is that quite a lot of readers still equate length with “value for money” (even when – as in my case - the book is free) – so faced with several pieces by the same author, many will tend to plump for the longer one.  

It also got a big boost in downloads when it appeared on getfreeebooks.com in August (of the other two pieces, I’ve only submitted “The Hardest Word” and that hasn’t been featured on the site yet).  Then in November, something rather peculiar started happening – my pageviews on Smashwords remained roughly the same, but a lot more people seemed to be downloading the novel (so instead of 1-2 downloads every 3-4 days, I started getting at least 5 downloads a day, with more around weekends).  I’ve no idea what triggered this.  I don’t think it can be attributed to any promotional activity on my part. 

If you had asked me when I started how much promotion I would need to do in order to get over 1000 downloads, I would have said quite a lot  - especially as my initial download figures on Smashwords were quite poor.  I would also have estimated that it would take at least 12 months to get anywhere near that number of downloads – whereas in fact the novel has only been up on Smashwords since June and I haven’t done very much in the way of promotion (or at least, not much that’s proved effective).  So that’s been a pleasant surprise too – even it turns out to be something of a fluke.

I’ve also been fortunate enough to have had some sympathetic reviews from other self-published writers (Tom Lichtenberg and Bernard Fancher) – and I suspect that these have helped more than anything in terms of persuading potentially sceptical readers to give my stuff a try.  So I have tried to do my bit too by doing my own reviews of free fiction by other self-published authors.  

This has been a surprisingly pleasurable experience.  In the process, I’ve come across material that is at least as good (in my view) as a lot of the stuff put out by commercial publishers.  And it’s also led me to read a greater variety of fiction (in some cases on subjects that, ordinarily, I wouldn’t touch with a bargepole).  So once again, my overall verdict on my first year and a bit in the world of self-publishing is “pleasantly surprised” – and it’s left me looking forward to doing more reading and writing in 2013. 

UPDATE 9.1.2013:  Here's a very interesting blog post by Mark Coker, who set up Smashwords, containing his predictions for 2013 - it's pretty long, but well worth a look.  As you would expect, he's something of an evangelist for self-publishing, but he doesn't just spout unfounded opinions - he explains the basis for his views and as he gets to see all the data on downloads of Smashwords titles, he has a big advantage over the rest of us when it comes to making predictions.  I was also interested to see that he takes the view that successful "promotion" is more about using platforms like Smashwords to make your book available for readers to discover than it is about more "conventional" publicity such as press coverage etc - or as he points it, "Passive discoverability trumps other book marketing methods" (see point 7).  As outlined above, my own experience would seem to back that up.  Some of the comments on the blog post (and Mark Coker's response to them) are also worth a read.

UPDATE 6.5.2013:  As mentioned above, I think it's important not to assume that 1 download = your stuff actually being read by another person.  This is particularly apparent on Scribd - see this post.  Having had a closer look at my stats there, I suspect that it is necessary to discount the figures provided on Scribd by significantly more than 50% in order to get a realistic picture of how many people are really reading (as opposed to just browsing and then swiftly passing on).  As you will see from the same post, Smashwords downloads for my most recent short story have been pretty disappointing.  However, to my continued amazement, downloads of my novel on Smashwords have now reached over 2000 and on Feedbooks the figure is just over 600 - so I am hoping that at least a few hundred of those downloads have actually been read. Even so, I continue to be plagued by the thought that some prankster has written a clever piece of software which randomly downloads copies of my novel every couple of days..... 

In : Self-publishing 

Tags: "free fiction" "free ebooks" downloads reviews smashwords 
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About Me

Paul Samael Welcome to my blog, "Publishing Waste" which will either (a) chronicle my heroic efforts to self-publish my own fiction; or (b) demonstrate beyond a scintilla of doubt the utter futility of (a). And along the way, I will also be doing some reviews of other people's books and occasionally blogging about other stuff.
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