Jim Hines on Ebook Marketing

A couple of days ago SFWA published an interesting article about ebook publishing by Jim Hines. I have a few issues with some of the terminology Jim uses — Amazon is a retailer, not a publisher, so if you create an ebook and sell through them you are not “published” by Amazon and you don’t get “royalties” from them, you are self-publishing — but it is a very interesting article all the same.

Basically Jim tried self-publishing some of his backlist as ebooks retailing through Amazon and B&N. In the course of 2 months he sold 37 books for a total income of $75. That’s not a viable business. What went wrong? Well partly Jim acknowledges that the choice of book was poor, but mainly it is a question of marketing.

Here’s the problem. It is all very well having your book available on Amazon, but with millions of other books also available, how is anyone going to find it, let alone buy it? There are things you can do. Good covers, good associated blurb, having more than one book available: all these help. But even so the haystack in which you are trying to get your needle noticed is very large indeed.

This is a problem for anyone trying to sell ebooks. How do you get your wares noticed? It is a problem that bugged me when I was thinking about setting up Wizard’s Tower. That’s one reason why I have Salon Futura: it gives me an opportunity once a month to tell a lot of people about new books. It is also why the bookstore sells books by other publishers. The more good material I have there, the more people will visit and the more chance I’ll have of selling my own books. But that’s probably not enough.

The good news is that December looks like having twice the turnover of November. The bad news is that still means little over £100 in sales which, given the generous terms I’m giving other publishers, is less than half what I need just to cover the hosting costs.

Yesterday Neil Clarke tweeted to ask people where they found out about good ebooks to buy (because he wants to sell books too). I didn’t see many responses, but one person mentioned “blogs and the front page of Amazon”. The Amazon reference isn’t as daft as it seems, because they do recommendations, but even so it illustrates the point. Left to their own devices, people will buy from Amazon. They will only buy from elsewhere if people blog or tweet or whatever about those other places. So I’m very grateful to Hal Duncan and Ekaterina Sedia for pointing people at my store. I’d like other people to do so as well, but there’s a limit to how often you can bug people and at least one person has already decided I’m being too pushy.

It is, however, a feedback thing. If you don’t sell many books, people won’t bother to sell through your store and you’ll sell even fewer. If you do have good sales, more people will want to sell through your store, more people will talk about it, and the more you will sell. Getting that positive feedback loop going is a skill. Over the next few months I’ll find out whether I have it.

And just in case you have forgotten, all Prime ebooks are on sale at the bookstore through to the end of the year.

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7 Responses to Jim Hines on Ebook Marketing

  1. Tom Harrington says:

    Cheryl,
    Amazon actually does publish through a self-publishing business they purchased called CreateSpace. He’s the link if you want to check it out:
    https://www.createspace.com/

  2. Steve Berman says:

    I’ll try and push more people to your site. The difficulty, of course, is that these days a publisher needs to offer their e-books through multiple venues — otherwise it’s the same as only selling your book through one brick-and-mortar store. So I have to point people to Wizards Tower and Weightless and Bella Books and ARebooks and Smashwords and even Kindle on occasion. It’s exhausting.

    And, as I have said before, I’d be willing to take a smaller % of profits to ensure you stay in business.

    • Cheryl says:

      Steve: This isn’t your problem, it is mine. Your job is to do the best you can by your authors by pushing as many different outlets as you can. The only reason for favoring me is if I give you a better deal that other people, or if I am responsible for a lot of traffic. The way for me to stay in business is to sell more, and the way to do that is to promote the site better, and persuade more publishers to let me stock their books.

    • Cheryl says:

      But you are right, it is exhausting.

  3. Terhi Törmänen says:

    Cheryl,

    Thanks for reminding about the sale! Ordered a few e-books. Now if I just had more time to read… :)


    I think it would a wonderful thing to have a sort of central marketing site for small presses, publishers and e-book/book stores so that it would be a lot easier to check out what’s new, what’s available, what’s on sale etc. Just my 2 cents worth….

    Thank you and keep up the good work!

    • Cheryl says:

      Terhi:

      Thank you! Both for the purchase, and for illustrating that one person’s unwelcome pestering can be someone else’s timely reminder. Publicity can be very hard to get right.

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