Confessions Of A Self-Published Penmonkey

Hi, my name is Chuck Wendig. And I am a self-published penmonkey.

(“Hi, Chuck.”)

As you may know, my e-book of profanity-laden writing advice, CONFESSIONS OF A FREELANCE PENMONKEY, is now available:

Kindle (US): Buy Here

Kindle (UK): Buy Here

Nook: Buy Here

Or, buy the PDF ($4.99) by clicking the BUY NOW button:

 

And, this being my second foray into the weird wild wide world of self-publishing, I thought, it is once more a good time to comment on the state of self-publishing as I see it.

What About The Readers?

Yesterday, agent Rachelle Gardner laid down some thoughts at her blog that (in a loose paraphrase) suggested that legacy publishers work more directly for readers than self-publishers. The self-published, she asserts, directly serves only the authors, and creates a more perilous environment for readers.

I get her point. I think you could make an argument that while choice is a good thing, such a glut of choice is not always a win. Too much noise and not enough signal is a loss for the readership.

I once worried to a similar point, but I’m no longer of that belief. I’m not comfortable putting a positive or negative value on it, because once you do, you start wandering down the path of false dichotomies (do this, but not this, this is awful, this is awesome, no gray area, nothing in the middle but a giant abyss filled with hungry spiders). What it means is that the environment — the publishing and authoring ecosystem — is shifting.

Which means that the role of gatekeeper is changing, too.

For legacy publishers, or traditional publishers, or “old-school pub-monkeys,” depending on whatever terminology tickles your pink parts, the gatekeeper role remains largely the same.

But both in and outside that model, driven in part by self-publishing but also in part because the world is home to a nigh-infinite selection of books, it means that the reader is becoming a gatekeeper, too. The Internet has widened the “word of mouth” in social groups considerably. Sites like Goodreads count toward this. So too does social media. Or Amazon comments. The readers are a “pure” gatekeeper in that they’re the first and last line of defense in terms of self-publishing. They give the Roman “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” in terms of whether the gladiator will be spared or made to fight another day.

In legacy publishing, other gatekeepers exist, and that’s okay, too. We must allow for and expect an ecosystem that has room for both self-published and trad-published books. We must allow for it because it’s fucking happening, no matter how much people think either one is doom, doom, DOOM. (By the way, don’t trust anybody who tells you it’s either/or. They’re zealots, plain and simple. Nobody has answers, the only truth we know is that this is going on; trying to predict the future or lay objective certainty upon all this is the same as trusting a homeless guy who will read your fortune in a pile of pigeon shit.)

For the record, the glut of choice is present already, even without self-publishing. Go into a bookstore and gaze upon the racks, then recognize that Amazon multiplies that by a factor with many zeroes.

Further, I have a pretty cynical mindset in terms of what serves who.

Writers serve writers.

Publishers serve publishers.

Readers serve readers.

Why should it be any other way? I’m not suggesting that this is a function of vanity or greed but rather, the reality of the marketplace. Because this is, after all, a marketplace.

Writers and publishers aren’t magnanimous. The only one pure of heart and innocent of motive (in general) is the reader, and it is forever the reader who is king.

Speaking Of Selfishness: More Rumblings On Price

Pricing PENMONKEY was tough. There’s such a downward trend in price that — for me, at least — I get a little shaky. I see some authors — not readers, authors — say that they won’t buy e-books now above a certain price, and sometimes that price is surprisingly bargain basement. So, here I am with a book that in part recycles material from this blog, material written over the course of two years. That’s a ding against it, right? But it’s also a huge book. 100,000+ words. And it has new content. And I paid for an extra-sexy cover, so that’s a cost that needs covering.

IRREGULAR CREATURES I priced at $2.99, and was only 45k, and is niche because it’s a collection of short stories. I felt PENMONKEY was less niche, and had twice the content, and so I noodled with twice the price. In the end, though, it seemed that five bucks was a pretty clean price. I know I’ll drop five bucks very easily. On media, on food, on anything. So, that seemed like a good place.

You likely won’t see $0.99 as a price from me. I may do sales, but I think I’m done with that as a price point. No harm, no foul to anybody else who wants to go that way (I know a number of smart, excellent writers who are rocking that price point), but it’s just not tenable for me. Not only morally (I’m stubborn), but financially. I can’t live on that price. I can’t feed my son on that price (well, technically he’s chowing down on hot tasty boob, but eventually I’ll need to buy him food). Listen, to make a barebones $35,000/year, I would need to sell 116,000 e-books over the course of a year at $0.99.

That’s a lot of goddamn books.

That number drops significantly at $2.99 — there, I only need to sell 17,500.

Still a lot, but way less epic a number.

At $4.99: ~9600 books/year.

At $6.99: ~7100 books/year.

At $9.99: ~5000 books/year.

I don’t put those numbers there as indicators of anything except, at the right prices, authors can actually earn out and become genuinely self-sufficient at higher price points.

I know this issue has greater levels of complexity than I’m stating here, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with authors who price low. Go for it. I’m just not betting on that being the right course for me and my books.

Books Breeding Like Lusty Rabbits

This isn’t new information, but having more than one book for sale is a good thing. When PENMONKEY hit, IRREGULAR CREATURES sales went up. They’re still up, actually.

This is tricky for the self-pubbed author because it means you’re under greater pressure to produce, produce, produce. Which is where you might find issues of quality lagging.

Self-Pubbing Is Still A Pain In The Ball Sack

Self-publishing takes work that goes beyond. You know this. I know this. I just want to reiterate it for those who are planning on going that route. From cover design to e-book prep to marketing to all that jazz, more of the weight falls to the author’s shoulders. Because now, author = publisher. Again, this is both good and bad. It’s just worth noting.

This time, I prepped the book for Amazon using MobiPocket, and while it took me a little bit to learn how to use it, I think it came out better. Though the table-of-contents gave me problems.

Getting the book onto the Nook marketplace was actually a lot easier. Upload, one, and done.

Smashwords can pretty much go eat a dick.

I’m not yet on iBooks. Not sure why I would, yet.

Also still considering a print version.

Goddamnit, Authors, Create A Direct Channel

Still surprising how few authors offer a direct channel to sell their e-book. Everybody’s so up in arms about “middlemen,” well, fine, then recognize that Amazon is a middleman.

I will forever sell a PDF version directly to readers. Not only do I get more value out of that (PayPal takes a far less robust cut), but it offers readers a different way of getting your book.

Why do that? Well…

Sales Numbers

I don’t know how many books I sold on the first day of release because, oops, my son — the baby penmonkey — decided he wanted to be born on Friday. (As dear friend Aaron Dembski-Bowden said, “you published a baby”). I had crapgasmic Internet at the hospital, and no way to really check how the book was doing. I did see that the book rocked up the Amazon charts, which was neat. Made it to #1444 across all Kindle books. Made it to #1 in writing reference (Kindle) and I believe #10 across writing reference books across the board (meaning, beyond the Kindle marketplace).

I know that I sold about 150 copies over the first few days of release.

A happy-making number, and again, many thanks to those who procured.

My numbers are currently at 67% Kindle, 24% PDF, and 9% Nook.

It’s that middle number that I want you to note: my direct sales through PDF are, as they were with IRREGULAR CREATURES, rocking at 20-25%. That’s a big number. Better than Nook.

Authors: offer your product directly.

Interface with the audience as one facet of sales.

What’s Next?

Well, PENMONKEY shall continue, one hopes, doing well. I’ll eventually do some contests and what-not.

I am available for interviews.

I am available for gust-bloggening.

I am available for handjobs behind the Burger King dumpster.

If you contacted me on Friday about any of these, please re-contact. I apologies, but again, that day was apeshit. Much that I probably missed, so please, re-contact.

Spread the love. If there’s anything I can do for you, please say the word.

I do anticipate a print release, but I’m not sure about Lulu or Createspace. As noted earlier, thinking on doing something with a higher-end printing that incorporates some of my photography.

Beyond that, I’ll continue to work in the self-pub space, though obviously I’m a fan of “traditional” publishing, too. Got DOUBLE DEAD coming out in November and hopefully more beyond that. Again I say that everybody needs to get used to an ecosystem that features a many-headed publishing beast. Authors are best straddling those worlds, in my opinion. Lest they fall into the spider-clogged abyss.