Often I read articles or blog posts about independent eBook authors who’re making it big, selling 100,000 or more eBooks in less than a year, receiving six-figure offers from major publishers, or landing movie deals. My spirits are lifted and hopes rekindled by such news. However, I quickly remind myself that for every one of these fortunate (and, no doubt, hard-working) authors who are hitting the Big Time, there are thousands of others who are refreshing their Kindle Data Publishing dashboards every few minutes and wondering why their sales numbers haven’t changed in days.
Truth be told, I’ve spent most of my self-publishing time on neither end of that sales spectrum (though I admit to being a numbers checker). So I thought I’d offer a glimpse of what middle ground looks like.
I’ve written three humor books and one short collection of, I’m almost (but not quite) ashamed to admit, bathroom humor essays. What began as a silly newspaper column grew into a full-time obsession when I wrote my first book, Driving on the Wrong Side of the Road. I didn’t set out to become a humorist. But I don’t need to tell you what happens to plans. Right?
Initially, I didn’t fully appreciate my book market size and competition. To give you an idea of what I’m talking about, here are a few statistics: According to Amazon’s category listing details, as of today, there are 18,223 humor books available on Kindle. In the past ninety days, 2,939 of those titles were added to the Kindle store.
For my eBooks to simply maintain their rankings, I must constantly outsell the new titles coming on board. This means that every time Tina Fey, Chelsea Handler, Ellen DeGeneres, or Jenny McCarthy releases a new book, my books lose whatever position and ranking they’ve previously built. I wish these famous folks would just be content with their awards, TV shows, and stage appearances. But, sadly (for me), they’re not.
Flipping through the TV channels last night, I paused to catch a glimpse of an Oprah rerun. There sat Jenny McCarthy, looking all gorgeous and well-rehearsed as she discussed her latest release with the Queen of Book Marketing. I folded my arms and tried my best not to be a “hater” (or a “hate her”). Humorists like me don’t get invitations to promote our books on Oprah. We get asked to provide free speeches at ladies’ garden club luncheons.
Oh, sure, I once garnered mild interest from a top-tier literary agent. But in the end, the woman said my “platform” wasn’t big enough. I wanted to say, “Oh, yeah? Well, my caboose is!” But I doubt that would have helped my case.
What the agent was telling me was this; I didn’t perform stand-up comedy, and I lacked my own radio and television show. My material was good, but without a blog like Snooky’s (Okay, her name wasn’t tossed out—but I got the drift.), this businesswoman feared I’d be a tough sell. Most likely, she was right.
After that exciting but big miss, I forgot about agents and dared to publish my own work.
Some suggest my paperback books have sold well, for an “unknown” author. Sales figures have been less than stellar, though, if you ask me. Nonetheless, in 2010, I decided to release Driving, my first book, in eBook format. With no previous formatting knowledge, I followed the Kindle and Smashwords publishing guidelines to make my book available through multiple outlets. I had no idea what to expect, but I figured I had nothing to lose . . . other than maybe a little despair.
To my surprise and delight, readers found me!
I’m not entirely sure how this happened. I did no advertising, other than on my own website (which was getting all of three hits per day). The only people who seemed to be visiting my blog were ones offering to enhance male performance. My family (excluding my husband) and most of my friends paid zero attention to what I’d written and even less to how they might help me spread word of my books.
It wasn’t until I received my first sales report from Smashwords that I realized Driving was selling overseas. Through Smashwords’ distribution arrangement with Apple, the book was selling in the U.K. and Canada! How were these audiences finding me? They weren’t visiting my website or blog, to be sure. I could see the number of visits posted on each site. Something else was leading readers to my work. But what?
I wondered what might happen if I did a little advertising.
Some research led me to Kindle Nation Daily, Daily Cheap Reads, The Frugal eReader, Red Adept Reviews, and Kindleboards.com, where I tested the waters with various sponsorship ads and banners. Over the next four months, I rotated my books’ exposures through these channels. Each ad produced a bump in sales, followed by a tapering off. But the lift was enough to get my books off the ground and into their Amazon categories’ top 100 lists.
One year after the eBook launch of Driving, this title is currently #167 in Amazon’s Kindle humor category. (That is among all 18,223 titles.) Today the book is sitting at #21 in Amazon’s Kindle humor essays listings and #8 in humor/parenting.
Despite my book sales success, I have not sold 100,000 eBooks. Nobody has offered me a movie deal. Playboy hasn’t asked me to pose nude, either. (And if they do, the answer is “ARE YOU CRAZY?”) Oprah doesn’t, and likely never will, know that I exist. But thousands of readers do. And I am humbled and sufficiently awed by that knowledge.
Personal success is measured not by how much of the journey remains ahead of us but rather by the distance we’ve already traveled. The stamina required for completing a book, the courage it takes to publish your own work, the faith that’s needed to believe what others don’t, and the fortitude necessary to stay the course are all accomplishments to celebrate. In between hitting the refresh button, of course.