Thursday, February 5, 2015

Poor Or No Sales?

So what's up with this? I can't be the only one in the literary world experiencing abysmal sales. I suspected this started in late 2009 (this date is important) for me, and then it really slowed and went almost dead calm in 2012. It hasn't changed much today, and that's with a total of seven full-length novels, two non-fiction books and two long shorts, all of them percolating in the millions rank on Amazon. This was not the case prior to 2012, where I could expect to sell at least one copy a week, maybe two or three. It was enough to keep my rank down to respectable numbers. Other retail sites showed the same lethargic numbers, Sony, Kobo, etc.

I belong to the basic social media groups--FB, Twitter, this blog and about 25 other displays sites, groups, sub-groups and writing forums, including the Kindle boards. I've stayed up-to-date with all of them to some degree, participating and promoting when I found a conservative opening (and if you don't think that's an expensive time sink, think again). I've spent as much as eight to twelve hours per day on promoting that lasts for weeks or months for one book only. I've done blog tours, have had dozens of articles, interviews, and hundreds of book reviews. I have not spent a dime on marketing--I just won't do that, nor have I ever.

Physical book signings? New Authors? You better have a huge family and peers' list to chalk up some sales there. If you sell a dozen or more paperbacks, pull out and laugh your way to the bank. If you sell two to five, consider it normal. 

It seems that no mater what effort I put into the promotional end the positive results are not forthcoming. This even goes for a new release. Of course it does depend on your publisher's efforts as well, and I can't say that really any of them have failed, even with the lacking resources, time and contacts they have. My current publisher is a promotion and marketing tiger--no complaints there. The larger NYC trade publishers might be a different story. I am, and have been since the past ten years, published by independents and small press. So I can't speak for the larger outfits and their vast promo and marketing resources.  

This slump is not exclusive to me--aside for the breakout exceptions, a large contingent of my fellow writers are all surprised by their low numbers. I've been watching this happen with award-winning books and very long series. The blurbs and back-copy are dead on. The artwork is spectacular. The format and word construction is to be envied. There is not one thing that is causing this lackluster sales slump. Except maybe one.

A few comments from the Gardian: 

Self-published books' share of the UK market grew by 79% in 2013, with 18m self-published books bought by UK readers last year, according to new statistics. 

Price Waterhousecoopers predicted that the consumer market for digital books would almost triple from £380m to £1bn over the next four years.

 "As authors are becoming more established, they get followings, just like mainstream authors, so the self-published market is becoming more like the traditionally published market," he said. "Self-published ebooks tend to be impulse buys, discovered by browsing in genre, or in the recommendation or offer sections. However, they are increasingly planned, via author. [So] price and blurb are the top prompts to buy self-published ebooks, but series and characters are increasingly important. The 99 cent price point is impossible to beat by the larger publishing outfits.

I'm going to go out on a limb and say that this publishing trend/option began in 2009 with the writers known as the "O'niners" and completely flooded the market place.
There are somewhere between 600,000 and 1,000,000 books published every year in the US alone, depending on which stats you believe. Many of those – perhaps as many as half or even more – are self-published. On average, they sell less than 250 copies each. (incidentally, it has been estimated that small press publication will produce about 75 sales during the book's lifetime).

So what's the main-lying fault here as far as dismal sales? It's not the self-published authors, they're only taking advantage of a new publishing trend/option, along with previously trade published authors getting their back-list out. Hell, I'm self-published--it was a back-list title. It's not the price for small press books--they're running steady and competing with the SP books.

Two things I believe might be contributing culprits: We are diluted, besieged and overwhelmed by the sheer number of books that we have in inventory. It's a literary runaway of titles--books, noveletts and shorts. You just can't get noticed if you're a lowly drop in the vast ocean today. The self-publishers, for the most part, are supporting each other by making purchases of their self-published titles. These same self-published writers were purchasing small press and large trade books before the advent of SP--they really had no choice or other outlet. The SP group is a very loyal and exclusive club--not to mention, the Kindle Boards is a massive writing forum.

Small press and large trade has inevitably lost a huge chunk of fans and readers to the SP sector. The SPers are no longer customers of the trade published. They are ultra prolific and putting out a cheap product that has quality merit. They are now being officially recognized, have their own awards and can garner professional reviews from some of the distinguished trade reviewers.

I cannot account for any other reason why sales have been on a continual slump from late 2009. Can you, in general terms? I know everything is subjective and no two books are alike. But what else could account for this downward sales spiral?

I'd love to hear your reasoning or theories. For all that is Holy and decent, do you think that anything can be done about it--lifting sales, I mean? Uh...other than becoming a full-time self-published author, hah!