Tales of a Hybrid Author: The Vestigial Tales Experiment One Year On

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Last June to September, I released a short story or novella every month and became a hybrid author. They are tie in short stories to my Micah Grey series, which were trade published by Strange Chemistry but will be re-released by Tor UK digitally this year and in paperback next year, with the conclusion in 2017. I designed the Vestigial Tales to be (hopefully) standalones that could be read in any order. For awhile, I was doing monthly roundups of sales, which proved fairly popular, but after about six months, sales were declining and the roundups were taking too much time.

I figured I’d do an updated list of numbers and some ruminations about what I learned from the experiment.

As of today, the stories have sold the following amounts:

Total Sales/Borrows per Story (until June 2015, which is the last payment period):
“The Snake Charm”: 198
“The Fisherman’s Net”: 163
“The Tarot Reader”: 120
“The Card Sharp”: 139
Total sales: 620 (a little under 2 a day on average)

The Cold Hard Cash:
Total Gross Income to Date: £485.88 ($760.28)
Costs: £132 for 10 ISBNs (I still have half of them)
Total Net Profit: £353.88 ($553.73)

Where I Sold Them:

Most of my sales were Amazon. On Smashwords I sold 60 in total of the above across all stories (25 of those were through Apple), but some sales were for free when I made the stories pay-what-you-want for a few months (one person paid me $5 a story–thank you whoever you are). There wasn’t that much uptick through Smashwords and the other distributors, so after a few months, I went back to being exclusively on Amazon in the hopes I’d get more borrows from Kindle Unlimited. I had a few, but not loads. Occasionally I made a story free on Amazon for a period and got a few hundred downloads each time, say 200 to 400. I do think a few of those led to sales of the other stories or the main novels. At the moment I’m not sure if I should keep them on Amazon or put them back on Smashwords as well, but not as pay-what-you-want as I don’t think Apple Books supports that. I could also maybe put them up on Wattpad too, as marketing for the main series.

What Marketing Did you Do?

Not a lot. Mainly just talking about it on social media sometimes and occasionally making them free or cheaper. I never paid for advertising. I did notice if I put a story down to 99 cents it didn’t change sales one whit. So if people wanted to buy it, they were okay with paying $2.99 for the longer stories.

Observations:

Sales would be relatively strong initially and then tail off after a month or two. The Drystan stories (“The Snake Charm” and “The Card Sharp”) were marginally more popular, which isn’t too surprising, as he’s a favourite in the series. “The Tarot Reader” is my favourite of the stories, and the longest and therefore best value for the price, so it’s a bit of a shame it’s sold the least. “The Fisherman’s Net” is the shortest, so I’ve always kept it around the 99 cent price point.

Was it Worth it?

Yes and no. I have extra respect for all my publishers and agent do for me, definitely. I also learned a lot about design and self-publishing. I know how to format text into ebook without it looking terrible.  It was a fun side project and I did like having control of the process and going at my own speed. Writing and putting these up kept me busy and helped my anxiety as I got ready to go on sub for False Hearts. It also helped me feel like I hadn’t given up on Micah Grey, whose future was super uncertain then. That forward momentum made it much easier to go back and finish the first draft of Masquerade in the autumn of 2014. I learned that I have around 80-100 readers who will buy what I put out within a few weeks, which is nice. Thank you, loyal readers!

But for 60,000 words, £353/$553 is not a great wage by any stretch of the imagination. The minimum professional level is 5 cents a word, which would be around $3,000 for all stories combined. I so far have made 1/5th of that. If you compare my self-published income to my trade published income (which, sorry, I’m not going to post), the result is pretty ridiculously disparate, even if you factor it in per word. Self-publishing was not the magical honey pot in my experience, not that I expected it to be.

The Vestigial Tales are still there, though. Recently I’ve made maybe $10-20 per month, but this is the first month where it looks like I won’t make anything. When the Micah Grey series is back in ebook (in a few months!) and print, and after False Hearts comes out, they might start selling again and fund some coffees when I work in cafes.

No one would call the experiment a runaway success, but I also didn’t lose any money. I didn’t invest in editing (a group of beta readers helped me) and I’m very thankful to my friend and cover artist, Dianna Walla, for her amazing work. If I’d paid market rates for both, I’d still be in the hole financially over the Tales.

Would You Self Publish Again?

I don’t know. I do have another completed Vestigial Tale already that I wrote last year, called “The Mechanical Minotaur.” It’s about a little boy who finds a minotaur automaton that might be able to lead him to his mother. Think The Indian in the Cupboard meets boy Cinderella. There’s some hints in it to things that tie into the climax of Masquerade though, so it doesn’t stand on its own quite as well. I’m not sure what to do with it, really. *stares at story on hard drive*

I like writing shorter works between novels as palette cleansers. I have lots of ideas for other Vestigial Tales that I’d love to write on the side in between my books.  Mystery novellas about a famed Shadow in Imachara around the time of Micah’s childhood, the story of the discovery of the Clockwork Woman in Pantomime, and there’s a new character in Masquerade I really like even though he’s not in it that much. He’d be a good candidate for his own story. I made a pretty detailed world for the series and I have a lot of fun dipping back into it. But who knows.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

For the moment, I’m focusing my attention on my books under contract and plotting out others to pitch. The recent Amazon payout system change seems to have gutted a lot of self-publishers’ income too, which is another shame. Not as easy to put up short work and get a kickback any more.

So there’s the one year update of my Vestigial Tales. Feel free to check them out (they’re free for Prime members to borrow and I get paid per page read). I can always use another cup of coffee. 😉