I first interviewed Jan Hurst-Nicholson for my blog a few years ago, when I was stunned at how many copies she had sold of But Can You Drink the Water? tales of an expat family in South Africa. Now, in 2014, she has taken her book to another level and has many gems to share with those of you who want to not just write a book but sell it!
My venture into e-publishing began with But Can You Drink The Water? which started as a stage script in the 1980s and progressed to a 13 part sitcom before eventually becoming a novel (and a few short stories). Although it had some positive responses from publishers, and even won an award, it was never taken up, but when it reached the semi-finals in the 2010 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award the encouraging review from the Publishers Weekly judge (droll, witty and utterly British) prompted me to self-publish it as a Kindle e-book. The original cover was designed by a graphic artist in exchange for her using some of my humorous short stories in an anthology, and the editing was done by a writing tutor friend, so it cost me nothing to e-publish.
I set the price at 99c (70p), believing readers wouldn’t mind risking 99c on an unknown author and an unfamiliar genre. In 2010 there was not as much competition as there is today, and although sales began slowly when Amazon UK came online the book started to take off and it was on the ‘movers and shakers’ list selling 3 000 copies a month and reached #20 in the bestseller list, and was #1 in three categories on Amazon UK for three weeks. (I’m sure the mention on Jo’s blog helped with the sales).
When sales tapered off in 2011 I looked for new ways to promote it and enrolled it in the KDP Select programme to take advantage of the promotional ‘free’ offer. This worked well initially, except for the impulsive buyers who tend to download anything that’s free, even if it’s in a genre they don’t usually read, and often results in some poor reviews. (Most of my one star reviews came after a freebie. You have to develop a thick skin to succeed as a writer!) With so many authors offering free books it no longer works as it once did and I feel that the KDP ‘countdown’ is a better option for boosting sales.
The US KBoards Writers’ Café thread and the UK Kindle Users Forum offer a wealth of information as well as being a way to connect with fellow writers who are eager to help with tips on formatting, covers and blurbs (a writer’s nightmare). Taking part in the forum is also a form of advertising as your books appear in your signature line, and writers share data on advertising websites that offered the best value for money, although I have never paid for advertising – yet. The best advertising of course, is word-of-mouth, but no one knows how to harness that! Marketing can be harder work than writing.
David Gaughran’s books Let’s Get Digital and Let’s Get Visible are must reads for authors and publishers of e-books, and I’ll be forever grateful to David for his plain vanilla explanation of how to get a US EIN to avoid paying US tax on income from Amazon.
I subsequently increased the price of the e-book from 99c to $2.99 and have now sold in excess of 20,000 copies and have 65 reviews on Amazon UK. Many of the situations in the story are loosely based on my own experiences and those of fellow expats, so it was gratifying to read that some reviewers ‘recognised’ the characters and one even commented ‘this could have been our family.’
I have recently launched But Can You Drink The Water? as a paperback through CreateSpace and have given it a new cover that makes it more obviously ‘humorous’ and helps to avoid clicks from readers expecting a non-fiction book on the quality of water in SA!
Encouraged by the success of But Can You Drink The Water? I e-published nine more books (three of them originally trad published, and all very different). Four of them are in print through CreateSpace and I’m busy having full covers done for the rest.
Writing in diverse genres and writing styles has been a bit of a marketing nightmare as each book is aimed at different readers, so it’s difficult to build up a readership. But at least I do have a readership, which wouldn’t be the case if the manuscripts had remained unread in the bottom of a drawer. And no one can promote a book with as much zeal, or incentive as the self-published author who now earns 70% of the royalties!
My Amazon author page: http://amzn.to/jzZt7e
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