I hate it when reality rears its ugly head, especially now, since my first novel, Killer Cows, was released as an eBook in March, and is scheduled for paperback release in June.
For awhile I was loving it. I loved seeing the eBook listed for sale at places like Fictionwise and Omnilit. I got excited seeing the title listed among its current bestsellers (eventually reaching a high as #2 on both sites). I love seeing it available on Amazon.com, cover big and bold, and became addicted to checking out its sales rank among all the books available at the site. The eBook reached as high as #40,000, preorders for the paperback reached 89,000. Yeah, not spectacular, but when I considered the millions of books available, I was happy.
Then insidious reality set in over the past week...
And I’m learning a lot in the process (which may actually be a good thing).
First, while I’m well-aware of the sudden boom in eBooks and eBook readers (which, depending on who you ask, is the salvation of the book industry), the cold reality is, this recent explosion has resulted in literally millions of eBooks made available by, not only established authors, but countless new ones like myself. In addition, I’ve discovered that most eBook sites do not differentiate novels from short stories; they are all lumped together. Add the recent boom in the eBook publishing business, and you’ve got literally hundreds of thousands of authors (new, old, good and bad) competing for a reader’s dollar. Imagine a Barnes and Nobles store the size of the Mall of America; even if it carried only one hard copy of every eBook in available right now, it would still be unable to stock them all.
Which means it only took a few actual sales for my book to chart on these so-called eBook bestseller lists, as I found out when my publisher informed me, despite the appearance of Killer Cows on several ‘bestseller’ charts, sales are actually ‘very low.’ I’ve got no problem with eBooks. I think they are a pretty cool thing, but as an author who, not too long ago was proud of achieving his dream of publishing a novel, reality has set in again. I’m just another writer among countless thousands, once again struggling to be noticed.
And, no, this isn’t self pity. This is reality. This is the world of publishing where, if you aren’t a Stephen King or Stephanie Meyer or John Grisham, getting people to know your novel even exists (no matter how good you or others say it is) is hard bloody work. At any time, I can Google myself and see Killer Cows all over the place, but what are the odds of even a few people on this planet thinking, “Hmm...wonder if there are any books about killer cows” and searching that title? That’s the task facing me and any other new writer trying to reach beyond their circle of friends, family and equally struggling writers.
Another reality is the amount of patience required on my part, which I often forget about. My eBook has only been available for six weeks, and though I’ve submitted it for review to various places, so are thousands of others, all with the hope that a decent review will generate sales. I can’t imagine the glut of book review sites get every day. It would be impossible to review them all.
Another reality is that some genres make more successful eBooks than others. For example, at Fictionwise.com, one of the leading sellers of eBooks, 19 of the current top 25 bestsellers are romance novels. 20 of their 25 best selling novels in the past six months have also been romance novels. I write young adult fiction, and there are no YA novels on either of these lists. The reality is that romance is, by far, the best selling eBook genre (followed distantly by science fiction). My conclusion is that some genres lend themselves better to eBook readers than others. That actually makes a lot of sense. As a middle school teacher, I have yet to see a thirteen-year-old whip out an eBook reader, and most kids who enjoy reading tend to prefer having a physical copy of the book in their hands. For them, computers and iPods are meant for surfing and listening to music, not curling up with a good book (at least, not right now). I could look at this data two ways...that my novel isn’t selling because YA isn’t a popular genre to download, or that I’m not doing enough to promote the novel to a YA audience with Kindles-in-hand.
Then there’s the reality that there are a lot of people who don’t consider eBooks to be real books. Of course they are, but I’m also privy to the reality that most of the people I know were not impressed Killer Cows was published as an eBook, though many of them (which number in the hundreds) are waiting until they can buy the paperback. Even my own parents didn’t buy a copy until they were able to pre-order the paperback, even though it’s $11 more than the eBook. After I inquired my local newspaper, The Oregonian, about a possible review, they replied they be happy to look at the paperback, not the eBook. The school where I teach didn’t order a single eBook of Killer Cows (save for a few of my colleagues who owned a Kindle), but once the paperback pre-order was made available, they ordered 60 copies.
The reality is, even though eBook sales are booming (I, myself, would rather pay ten bucks to read my favorite authors than shell out thirty for the hardcover version), until the Kindle and other eBook readers costs about as much as an MP3, promoting and selling an eBook is a venture in which I’d personally advise any newly-published author to remember one thing: Sincere congratulations on being published. It is an incredible accomplishment. Now get ready for the real work...trying to raise your name and work above the thousands attempting the same thing.