Author J. Scott Coatsworth recently shared on his blog a post titled Writing is Hard, which struck a chord with me. I’m sharing here a lightly edited version of his original post (with his permission, of course) and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did 🙂
Writing is Hard
Writing is what I love more than almost anything else in the world. But sometimes, being a writer is soul-crushingly hard.
I’m not talking about the writing itself. Writing can make me crazy, sure. There are times when the words just don’t come, and times when you just can’t sit down to write. And times (usually at the three-quarters point of the story) when you decide everything you write is crap.
But that’s par for the course.
What I’m talking about today is getting your work out there, and helping folks actually find it.
Over the last several months, I’ve been experimenting with self-publication. I have re-released a number of my short stories as stand-alone tales – ones that appeared before in journals, on websites, or in anthologies. I’ve gotten pretty good at running them up the Amazon charts. And I’ve discovered a few things along the way.
First off, Amazon and KU
KU (Kindle Unlimited) is an all-you-can-eat platform for readers, who pay a flat monthly fee to read any book on the platform. It’s a great service for folks who can’t afford to buy a lot of books, but it pays basically peanuts to authors. In my tests, I earned about 20% of what I would have made on a regular sale, and since that sale on a 99¢ Amazon ebook would net me about 35¢, that’s about 7¢ a read.
KU is also very restrictive – your book can’t be on sale in any other platform to be eligible for KU.
So why do it?
In a word, ranking.
One of my shorts was left out of the KU program by mistake. It was really slow to move up the Amazon charts compared to my previous shorts. And yet, when I corrected it and added it to KU on release day, it jumped about 10,000 places in the Amazon overall sales rank number.
My KU titles generally reached about 8,000 in overall Amazon rank at their highest point, and a couple managed to break 5,000.
When I released “Spells & Stardust” and then “Slow Thaw” (via MCB), I gave them the exact same promo I did for the 99¢ KU tales, but these two were not in KU.
“Spells & Stardust” and “Slow Thaw,” by contrast, managed 35,000 and 44,000 respectively. Granted they were longer, slightly more expensive titles, and “Spells & Stardust” was mostly previously released titles, but the difference in ranking (and therefore sales) is pretty stark.
None of this will be a surprise to any of my self-published author friends, but I bring it up to highlight just how much the market, especially for smaller authors, is tilted toward 99¢ and free titles, on which we authors make almost nothing.
And yes, Amazon isn’t the whole ballgame. There’s Kobo and Barnes and Noble and Smashwords and iBooks and a host of others. But Amazon dwarfs them all combined in sales.
At October’s Dreamspinner Retreat, Elizabeth North said something very interesting (well, she said a lot of interesting things, but this one is on-point here). Overall book sales have not really changed much in decades in terms of raw numbers. Just where they are being sold. So when a vendor like Amazon soaks up so much of the market with lower compensation than previous channels offered, it makes it very hard to make up the difference for your average author.
Then there’s Facebook
On the promotion side, Facebook is the big kahuna of social media. If you want to reach large numbers of people, you have to be on Facebook. But the platform’s algorithms have made it progressively harder and harder to reach other people on the platform for anything other than personal posts (cat videos still get wide play). And you have to be very careful how you post, or you risk going to Facebook jail, blocked from posting for a number of days on the service.
Even their ads are problematic. What was once a fairly easy, low-cost way to reach a bunch of folks can now be a real headache.
I was running a $20 ad on FB a couple months back for a local reading. For some reason, it just didn’t run, and who knows how many people I missed out on connecting with? It was my very first bookstore signing and reading.
Flash forward a few months later, and I’m trying to run an event Ad for our Holiday Milk and Cookies reading. All of a sudden, Facebook wants a minimum of $100 a day to promote this free local event. Sorry, FB. dealbreaker.
And don’t get me started on the Facebook witch hunts against author pseudonyms and trans and nonbinary folks in our community, which at least seem to have subsided for now, or their new standards on “erotica” which may very well end up pinching the queer author community, intended or not.
A Stacked Deck
As I said from the get-go, I love writing. But it seems like, more and more, the deck is being stacked against us small authors when it comes to actually selling our books, and getting them into the hands of readers who will hopefully become our future fan base.
I will keep plugging away at it, and keep trying to find new ways to get the word out.
To all of you who read my newsletter and works, I love you to death, and without you, I wouldn’t be able to do this. So thank you from the bottom of my heart.
And to my writer friends – what obstacles stand in your way? And have you figured out a good way around them?