Posted in E-publishing, Tips and Tricks | Posted on 12-09-2012|
As my three regular readers know, I released the fifth book in my Emperor’s Edge series last week. A couple of weeks before that, I offered an eARC (electronic advanced reader copy) for sale on my site. This was the first time I’d done that, and, overall, it went well with nearly 250 people paying $10 for the file and a promise of the finished ebook when it was ready to go.
I’d originally come up with the idea of selling the ARC because I’d given away some free copies to folks who’d contributed to my Kickstarter campaign last spring. This created some strife in the fan forum between those who had been around for the KS event and those who hadn’t. I figured I’d better make copies available to everyone who wanted them, lest I start a civil war over there.
In addition, I’d posted a short story on my site the month before, and several people had expressed interest in having a copy for their e-readers. This meant paying for cover art, editing, and formatting, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to spend money on that when I wanted to keep the story free. But, I thought, if I could sell some early copies of EE5, maybe I could come up with a couple hundred dollars to pay for turning the short story into an ebook.
As you can guess from my numbers, I made enough for that and covered the full editing, cover art, and formatting costs for EE5 as well. This was the first time I’d ever recouped the ebook-creation expenses before the book was released (when going through Amazon and other online retailers, you get paid 60+ days after books sell).
I thought some people would find it useful to read about how I went about selling the ARC on my site and
where I screwed up what I would do differently if I did this again.
Step 1: Determine Whether People Would Actually Buy an ARC if You Made It Available
It probably goes without saying, but this is going to be for authors who already have an established fan base. If you’re releasing your first book, you’ll have trouble getting more than Mom and Memaw to pay for advanced copies.
Let’s say you’ve been publishing for a while now and you have some loyal readers following your work. You figure that if they knew about it, many of them would be interested in an early copy of the new project. The second thing to ask yourself is whether you have a mailing list or at least the email addresses of these fans so that you can drop a note directly into their inboxes, announcing the availability of the ARC.
It is unlikely that you’ll have good results if the only way you have of contacting people is through Twitter, Facebook, and/or your blog. From my own experience, I know I have some regular folks who stay in touch on Facebook, Twitter, etc., and many of them bought copies of the ARC, but there were far more people whose names I didn’t recognize from everyday interactions. They’re folks who were on my list and decided to check out the ARC after I sent an announcement (the majority of the purchases came within 12 hours after that).
Step 2: Determine the Format of Your eARC and How “Proofed” It Will Be
For my “eARC,” I offered a copy of the same Word .doc I’d just sent off to my editor. If I were to do this again, I’d have someone format it so people could get it in .mobi or .epub versions, which would have made things a little easier for readers. I also imagine I might have gotten more sales that way. But, since formatting is something I pay someone to do, I didn’t consider it for this. I had this idea around 9:30 am Wednesday morning and had the blog post and Paypal button on my site about an hour later. (I was heading out of town that Saturday, and my editor already had the manuscript on her desk, so figured I had a pretty small window to make this happen if I wanted to do it.)
Something you’ll want to consider is if you want to sell an unproofed copy the way I did or wait until you have a polished version back from your editor. There’s a time when I would have been mortified at the idea of letting someone read anything less than perfect, but, despite beta readers and editors, I’ve yet to publish a manuscript without some typos in it. You’ve probably found five already in this blog post. So, anyway, I’m over the delusion that I could put out something perfect. At least 250 people now know that I can never remember whether to use lie or lay, who or whom, and that I have a knack for odd typos that result in terms like, “the breast’s maw.” Ah, well.
If you do want to wait until you have a polished version, this may involve delaying the release date of the regular ebook. The appeal of ARCs for readers is, of course, that they’re getting the story before it’s available in stores. In the traditional publishing industry, where everything takes longer, a reader might be able to purchase an eARC four or five months before the actual book comes out (I did that with Lois McMaster Bujold’s latest this summer, dropping $15 to download the ARC from the Baen website). With self-publishing, we can publish the ebooks as soon as they’re edited and formatted, but there might not be many people willing to pay to get an ARC a mere day or two before it’s be available at Amazon.
I will say, though, that I did have quite a few people say they paid for the ARC because they knew the money would go to me directly, rather than to Amazon or someone else who would take a bigger cut than Paypal. It’s definitely nice to have people that care enough to think about such things!
Step 3: Determine Cost
I sell my ebooks for $4.95, so the obvious price point for an eARC would have been something similar, but I didn’t think it’d be worth my time to set everything up, email people (I mistakenly, didn’t think of automation this first time around — more on that farther down), and deal with the inevitable “customer service” emails I’d get for $5. I decided that I’d go with $10 and include the eARC (Word doc), final ebook (mobi and epub files), and an ebook version of that short story as well.
At the $10 price point, I made $9.41 after Paypal took its cut ($9.31 on foreign sales). Compare this to the $3.30 or so I would have made if these folks had purchased the ebook through Amazon or B&N later on. Since the Word file didn’t cost me anything extra to produce, I earned about $6 more per buyer in the end. If I’d only charged $5, it would have been a dollar more from each person which, as I said, wouldn’t have been worth the extra work. In the end, even with 250 buyers, this wasn’t a huge pile of money, but I’m very happy that it allowed me to cover the entire ebook-creation costs of EE5 and the short story up front.
Step 4: Figure Out How to Handle Sales
I’ll tell you first what I did and then what I’d do differently if I did it again.
I wrote up a blog post, announcing the availability of the eARC and letting folks know what they’d get and how long the offer was available (it’s always a good idea to put a time limit on these sorts of things, so people, if they’re interested, are less likely to put off buying until “later” and then forget). Then I headed to my Paypal account and clicked the “Merchant Services” tab. I selected the “create payment buttons for your website” link and filled out a three-part form. They gave me the code, and I stuck it at the end of the blog post. Overall, it took less than 10 minutes to go from, “I wonder how I go about doing this” to having the Paypal button in the post.
Paypal has an option where you can send folks to a specific URL after making a purchase, and, because I wasn’t thinking, I had it send people back to my blog’s home page. After I’d sent 50 or 100 emails of the file by hand, it occurred to me that it wouldn’t have taken that long to have made a hidden page on my site with the links to the files, so people could download them from that page as soon as they paid. Instead, people had to wait until I checked my email and sent the file. I checked my mail a lot that first couple of days, but, to my surprise, orders kept trickling in over the next week. I was literally sitting at the U.S. Open in New York, watching tennis with a friend and answering emails on my iPhone, telling people where to grab the files.
Did I mention that it’s not a good idea to try something like this when you’re heading out of town in a few days? Yeah.
So, as I said, if I did this again I’d automate things. I’m sure there still would have been emails with questions, but the whole process would have been a lot less work for me overall.
Step 5: Gird Your Loins for Customer Service Emails
Actually, everyone was very nice and pleasant to deal with in emails, but I had a lot of people sign up for this who didn’t know how to sideload a file onto their kindle, ipad, etc. I spent quite a bit of time, trying to talk them through finding their kindle’s email address for forwarding the file, or getting a Word doc onto their iPad, or using the USB cable to transfer the file, etc.
In the end, nobody got too cranky, but I felt bad that people experienced delays and frustrations. And, as I said, this created more work for me than I’d expected. I used to think I’d eventually add an e-store to my website, so people could buy ebooks directly (thus reducing the cut I share with Amazon/B&N/etc.), but I’m not sure about that after this. It’d be no trouble for people who buy from Smashwords and know how to transfer files to their e-readers, but for the people who are used to instant, automatic, wireless delivery, I think it might be a headache all around!
All right, that post went on a tad long. I hope something was helpful. If you have any questions about this process, please let me know. Or just comment to let me know you actually read most of the post. My ego likes to hear that.