Books written by Ray Sullivan

Friday, 10 May 2013

The Numbers Game

When I finished my first couple of novels I tried to get published through what was then the only available route, excepting vanity publishing.  I bought the Writers and Artists Yearbook, followed all the considered wisdom of the day and started to pitch my books.  Not to publishers, it was pretty well clear that unsolicited manuscripts from unknown authors to the publishing houses would hit the reject pile unopened.  Only those unknown authors who had achieved fame and popularity by other means such as playing sports successfully or being a TV celebrity, in all of its variable meanings, could go straight to the publisher.

No, I tried the accepted route and pitched at various literary agents and quickly realised a couple of home truths.  First, those literary agents who had access to the publishing houses, had pretty much enough work to not want to break a sweat on a unknown author.  Second, they didn't worry overmuch about reading the submitted material before rejecting it, based on some of the reject letters I received.  I realised that pitching like this is a long slog - Stephen King famously had a nail above his writing desk overflowing with reject slips - and consequently I got on with the day job while continuing to write in my spare time.

And then came the self publishing revolution and here we are.  All grown up and published.  Now it might seem a little strange that someone trying to eke out a marginal second income from words should admit to being more interested in numbers, but apart from having a degree in mathematics I've worked in manufacturing industry monitoring production figures for a remarkably more rewarding income in my recent past, so for me monitoring the numbers is more interesting than many other parts of this industry.

It can be a little frustrating, because following the numbers can often yield way more insight than a hundred thousand words of inspirational text, in my opinion.  Take Amazon, for example.  Many self published authors do so through Amazon, some exclusively.  In fact I suspect there are few who don't, and would question anyone who chose to not do so, despite my recent call to arms to stage a boycott on the company - which although it didn't get a lot of vocal support proved  to be a very popular posting which suggests a few of you were thinking of joining in.  Anyway, if and when you sell a book through Amazon you find out which region it is sold in - North America, which until recently used to include Canada but now includes India instead.  Even if the sales data reveals where your  books are selling best - my Amazon data indicates that North America is my best market followed by the UK, not sure if I would know if any of the US sales were actually India sales at present - I don't have any information about where I'm nearly selling books to Amazon.  To make that a little clearer, I have no visibility of where my books are being looked at, no idea if people are cruising past my books on Amazon.  If I did I might be able to target promotions in different regions.

Smashwords does let me know about drive-bys, but only by book.  I don't know how many of the page views and book sample downloads took place in the US, how many in the UK or Germany or France, although I do often get some idea of where books were bought when the likes of Barnes & Noble return sales data to Smashwords.  In some cases I can even narrow the sales down to sub regions - I watched Digital Life Form sell in one Canadian state then start moving around Canada state by state over a period of a couple of weeks for a short period last year.  I could almost feel the emails flying between friends and family who had found an eBook that worked for them.

It's a similar story with this blog - I'm sure those of you who write a blog will track your daily pageviews and Blogger, Google's blogging tool, provides data that is tantalisingly helpful while not helping at all.  For example I know that the US is the main landing location for my blog, with the UK in second place.  In fact, in recent weeks, the UK hasn't featured greatly, the US has increased its readership followed by a slew of European locations.  But I can't tell you if the main US readership is East or West coast, or whether it is the mid-West, perhaps?  I can make some assumptions by the timings of hits but it's not scientific.  Maybe I wouldn't do anything with the information even if I had it, but it would be nice to have the choice.

One of the things the data could help with would be the impact on pricing on different price points.  We can all make assumptions about who can afford books and what they are likely to pay.  Well, although it's not all the data I would like to play with, Smashwords' CEO Mark Coker has provided an update to last year's survey on eBook selling trends.  Smashwords have an advantage in that they see a lot of books sold directly through them and through the likes of Apple, Barnes & Noble, Sony etc and they can crunch the data to see if there are any trends.  There are and they've shared them in their latest blog entry which you can read using the link above. Please note that Smashwords' blog is an incremental blog, so if you've stumbled across this entry some time after I've posted it you'll need to scroll down a bit to reach the May 8th entry.

I'm not going to regurgitate all of the data that the posting provides - Mark does his usual ultra detailed analysis in a fine way that I would only mangle - but I can reveal that some things haven't changed over the year and one of those is that books offered for free are the most downloaded - now who would have thought?

One final point on numbers, for this posting anyway.  When I started self publishing I read up on all the considered wisdom on the subject and top of the list was to start a personal website to promote the books and the other was to start blogging.  I didn't know what a blog was back then so have had to develop my own style over the last couple of years.  I've just looked up and this is published blog entry number 500.  I don't know if that's a milestone in blog terms, but I reckon that between my book serialisations and general musings I've posted somewhere near 400,000 words in those 500 postings.  So, to celebrate, I'm adding a little extra to this posting.  My first book, Parallel Lives is currently listed for free at all good booksellers except Amazon, for reasons I've adequately explained in earlier postings a week or so ago.  For a very limited period I'm making the other five books free for a day or so, but only through Smashwords, using the codes provided below.  Feel free to download a copy of any of these books you may be missing and do pass the codes to friends and family - just remember that they will expire fairly soon.  If you pass them the blog URL instead of just the codes, then I may be able to derive some more data about you guys.

The Journeymen - MW35J
Skin - HP59D
Digital Life Form - ND94T
The Last Simple - AK96K
Project: Evil - MQ28M


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        Visit Project: Evil Website here                                        Visit DLF Website here

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