Five Reasons I Decided to Self-Publish My New Book
A few weeks ago, I put out my first self-published anthology, Candy Lovers; Sugar Erotica. Why, after over a decade and 60 anthologies with traditional publishers, did I decide to take this major step?
Before I tell you why, I want to be clear about why I didn’t. I didn’t decide to self-publish because I’m unhappy with my current publisher, the wonderful New Jersey-based independent Cleis Press, who publish the annual Best Women’s Erotica of the Year series I edit, which is my pride and joy and the biggest honor of my career, along with other titles. I earn more in book royalties from them than I did at my full-time magazine editor job. I’m deeply proud of the books I edit for them and plan to continue working with them for as long as they’ll have me. I bring ideas for new erotica anthologies to Cleis, and often they greenlight them. In this case, since the vast majority of the book had been previously published, I didn’t think it was a good fit to compete with brand new titles. I’d rather create exciting new books for them that have the potential to become big sellers.
I also wasn’t desperate or trying something as a last resort. This was a process I’d been mulling over for years, because I have several out of print anthologies I edited for publishers that have since shut their doors. That sobering reality keeps me on my toes when it comes to promoting and marketing my books, and makes me aware that I’m very lucky to even get to keep on putting out books at all. Self-publishing wasn’t something I did because no one else would have me; it’s a pro-active step toward learning the most about the marketplace for books as I can, which I believe will help me do my job as an anthology editor, author, teacher and consultant.
Below are five reasons I decided to delve into self-publishing.
To revive an out of print book
My primary motivation for self-publishing was simply that I love words and books and hated to see my out of print titles languishing unavailable, or only for sale at outrageous sums by shady online sellers, prices which I’d never want anyone to pay for my books. The old title, Sex and Candy, was published in print only by Pretty Things Press in 2008. I wanted a new book to fit 2018 reading patterns, with a hotter cover that better conveyed the book’s contents. In addition to the 26 original stories, I wanted to give the small number of people who did read the original something new, so I include nine original stories I commissioned from erotica authors whose work I admired, which give the range of sugary treats mentioned in the book more breadth.
So I chose to self-publish using Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), where I set the price (and let the book be free in Kindle Unlimited). I opted to get 70% royalties from Amazon for my exclusivity. My longtime narrator, Rose Caraway, will narrate the audiobook, coming out on Audible later this year.
Some people have asked why I’m not doing a print book or “going wide,” meaning offering the book for sale on other ebook platforms such as Nook, Google Play, iBooks or Kobo. As for print, the original version sold such a minimal number of copies I was embarrassed for it, so the learning curve and expense and time required to put out a print book don’t seem worth the hassle in this case. My number one goal was to make the old stories available to readers, and now they are. As for exclusively using Amazon for Kindle readers, the process of getting the book up for sale required a lot more hours and aggravation than I’d expected. I didn’t want to have to check multiple websites to make sure the upload worked or any other troubleshooting. Yes, I know I can do much of that work through Smashwords, but I chose a higher royalty rate and the easiest way in my mind to launch my ebook.
To learn what self-publishing is like
For years, I’ve heard some version of the refrain, “Why don’t you just self-publish?” Some people make it sound like it’s as easy as pressing a button, and like riches will immediately rain down on me. This ignores the fact that my publisher and distributor work hard to get my books into amazing bookstores all across the country and invest their own marketing dollars into my titles, and that those titles come with the cache of being published by them.
With self-publishing, I’m all on my own. I wanted to know what that was like, to be the one doing all the trouble shooting, to be the one laying out the money to pay authors, hire a copyeditor, hire a formatter and any other costs that might arise.
To be in total control of the publishing process
I’ve worked with many publishers over the years, and while for the most part I’ve had great experiences, save for the a few covers I hated (I’m looking at you, Glamour Girls, from a now-defunct publisher). But working with another company is different than working for yourself. I wanted to know exactly how a Word document on my computer could become an ebook a stranger across the world could purchase and read immediately. I wanted to work with a cover designer and create ebook-friendly files. I wanted to take all the risk and reap all the rewards.
I’ve already changed the price twice, and may do so again going forward. While I love my cover art, it’s possible I may change that too if I’m so inclined. It feels like an amazing gift, and a heady amount of power, to be able to make such changes any time I want.
Now, the truth is, I haven’t had control over everything. I found out after I published the book that it’s not eligible for Amazon Marketing Services (AMS) ads because of its “mature content,” which I’d been planning to utilize to boost sales. I found out that, despite repeated requests to boost posts on my professional Facebook page, Facebook’s Terms of Service don’t allow ads for erotica. I wrote more about that in this post.
They infuriate businesses owners like me by courting our ad dollars when they have no intention of accepting themmedium.com
So there have been some stumbling blocks, but I consider all of them part of the learning experience.
To better help my students and clients
Speaking of learning, I teach erotica writing workshops in-person (my next one is June 12 in Berlin, Germany) and online, as well as consulting with clients individually about the craft and business of the genre. I’m often asked about the viability of self-publishing and whether it’s something I think students should try for themselves. Usually I refer them to successful authors such as Sommer Marsden, who’ve been at self-publishing for a long time.
But I wanted to be able to answer their questions from my own personal experience. No, my lone case study is, right now, one person’s perspective based on releasing one title, when conventional wisdom says the way to succeed is by publishing multiple titles on a tight schedule. But at least I know the ins and outs, the formatting required, the timing and all the behind the scenes element of publishing on Amazon.
To get real-time sales data
As I said above, I currently earn what I consider very good royalties on my traditionally published books (knock on wood that this trend continues). But my royalty statements, which are staggered by one quarter, meaning in August 2018, I will receive royalties for Q1 2018, don’t give me all that much data to work with. My book sales are broken out in lump sums by format: print, ebook or audiobook.
This allows me to see broad trends, such as the fact that my audiobook sales have consistently earned me over half my royalty total for the past few years, but less specific data regarding when there were sales spikes or slumps.
When I logged into KDP to chart my Candy Lovers ebook sales for the first time, I was floored. Amazon shows me real-time sales information, both individual book sales and pages read in Kindle Unlimited. They also break out the sales by country, so I can see who’s purchased my book in the United States, Britain (UK), Germany, France, Spain, Italy, The Netherlands, Japan, India, Canada, Brazil, Mexico and Australia. So far, buyers have bought Candy Lovers in the U.S., UK, Germany, India and Canada.
I haven’t had the time to investigate exactly why, one night, I earned $119 from sales in India, or to do the types of promotions I’d originally planned. Sometimes I log in and the news is a little depressing. For instance, yesterday, June 3, nobody bought Candy Lovers. Perhaps, from the perspective of one’s ego, it’s better not to know. But my goal is to use this live sales tracking to help guide me in planning promotions not just for Candy Lovers, but for my other titles. I purchased an upcoming promotion in the newsletter of Shameless Book Club, and will be curious to see if that yields any sales. If so, I’ll be inclined to purchase those more often than I have in the past.
Stay tuned for upcoming articles about my self-publishing journey, from the actual process of uploading the ebook to tracking sales, data and promotions.
Rachel Kramer Bussel (rachelkramerbussel.com) has edited over 60 anthologies, including Best Women’s Erotica of the Year, Volume 1, 2 and 3, Come Again: Sex Toy Erotica, Begging for It, Fast Girls, The Big Book of Orgasms and more. She writes widely about sex, dating, books and pop culture and teaches erotica writing classes around the country and online. Follow her Twitter account @raquelita and find out more about her classes and consulting at eroticawriting101.com. You can also follow Rachel on BookBub to get notified about new releases and ebook sales.