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.

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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. 😉

Tales of a Hybrid Author : Month 4: “The Card Sharp”

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Background if you’re new to my blog: I’m self-publishing some short stories/novellas set in the same world as my Micah Grey series (PantomimeShadowplay and this month I shared the title of the third book: Masquerade). There’s going to be a bit of delay in getting Masquerade to market. I was hoping to have the Kickstarter go live this month, but I’m still waiting to see what’s going on with the rights to the first two now that Angry Robot has been bought by a new owner. These short stories/novellas are to help break up the wait and teach me about self-publishing.

This month had the launch of the last story, “The Card Sharp,” which tells the story of what happened to Drystan before he joined R.H. Ragona’s Circus of Magic. Laya has made some awesome artwork for it:

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Drystan in the Naiad Green.
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Jane Cress.
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Tavish Antiaris

So cool. Laya and Victoria from The Gay YA have also started a Tumblr for fans of my books, which is probably one of the coolest things to ever happen to me.

“The Card Sharp” went up later in the month than the other three, because I fell behind on my schedule due to summer conventions and starting university.

Total Sales:
Paid (Amazon): 63
Borrowed (Amazon): 5
Paid (Smashwords): 0
Total for September: 68
Total Sales to Date: 326

Per Story in September:
“The Snake Charm”: 4 (plus one bought and refunded)
“The Fisherman’s Net”: 14
“The Tarot Reader”: 12
“The Card Sharp”: 28

Total Sales/Borrows per Story:
“The Snake Charm”: 138 (plus 395 free ones)
“The Fisherman’s Net”: 104
“The Tarot Reader”: 56
“The Card Sharp”: 28

Total Gross Income for September: £59.01 ($94.24)
Total Gross Income to Date: £276.07 ($440.87)
Costs: £132 for 10 ISBNs
Total Net Profit: £144.55 ($230.84)

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September sales

Reviews as of today: 
“The Snake Charm” on GR: 46 ratings (21 reviews)
“The Snake Charm” on Amazon: 8 (US),  9 (UK)
“The Fisherman’s Net” on GR: 21 ratings (8 reviews)
“The Fisherman’s Net” on Amazon: 2 (US), 2 (UK)
“The Tarot Reader” on GR: 19 ratings (8 reviews)
“The Tarot Reader” on Amazon: 2 (US), 2 (UK)
“The Card Sharp” on GR: 10 ratings (4 reviews)
“The Card Sharp” on Amazon: 0 (US), 0 (UK)

As ever, if you’ve read any of the stories, leaving a short review on Goodreads/Amazon would be so greatly appreciated. Especially on Amazon, as it means more casual readers might pick them up.

Overall, I’d say this experience is a success. I made back my costs and made some profit, I’ve had nice reviews, and it was fun. Did I make loads? No, but I didn’t expect to. These sales are a result of no paid advertising. I put up that they were available on social media, and that’s it.

Did they affect Pantomime/Shadowplay‘s sales? It’s hard to say. I think it’s probably more than affecting sales, people who enjoyed the books were also happy enough to pick up the Vestigial Tales. The only real information I have on sales is the Amazon Author Central account in the US. It doesn’t show e-books & doesn’t show all paper copies either, so it’s an inaccurate tool at best. But, if overall trends are like this, than in the last few months, sales picked up or at least remained steady:

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I haven’t shared the numbers since it’d be so inaccurate anyway, and I don’t know if the publisher would be okay with it. The largest spikes are release weeks.

This month I was paid for July’s sales and received a check from June for my UK sales (which reminds me, I still need to deposit it).

Non-self-publishing stuff this month: I was paid the first installment of my UK publication advance. I’ll officially be leaving my day job in a month or two. I was also able to announce the Italian translation deal. I’ve done a few creative writing workshops around Aberdeen and have one or two left. I’ve also been doing my masters in Creative Writing, which is going well so far.

The Vestigial Tales are done for now, though there might be some more in the pipeline for Masquerade‘s Kickstarter, if/when that happens. *mysterious face* I’m hoping I can figure out what’s happening with that soon as I desperately want to make plans and follow through but am still unsure which path is best and what my options are.

Plans for next month: Finish the draft of Masquerade. Re-read Pantomime & Shadowplay in preparation for edits. Finish planning/researching Brainfreeze Book, so I can start drafting properly in November (NaNoWriMo?). Keep on top of school work and day job and try not to implode.

I’ll leave you with the link to the Vestigial Tales page. Please do consider picking them up if you enjoyed my books. As mentioned before, all proceeds are being bookmarked for self-publishing Masquerade, should that be the path it takes.

Tales of a Hybrid Author: Month 3: “The Tarot Reader” & Kindle Countdown

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Background if you’re new to my blog: I’m self-publishing some short stories/novellas set in the same world as my Micah Grey series (PantomimeShadowplay). There’s going to be a bit of delay in getting the third book to market (hopefully the Kickstarter will go live next month), and so these will hopefully help break up the wait and teach me about the process.

So this month saw the launch of “The Tarot Reader,” the third Vestigial Tale, and I also made the first one, “The Snake Charm,” free for 5 days.

Sales still kept ticking along. I had an upswing on Tarot’s launch day, and another near the end of Nine Worlds – maybe people who went to my workshop purchased some? Loncon didn’t seem to have any impact on sales. If anything, they went down during those days.

Putting up Snake Charm for free was fun. Loads of people downloaded it, so I’m hoping over the next few months I’ll get more reviews, and that some who downloaded the first one go onto purchase the others.

And now, the numbers!

Total Sales:
Paid (Amazon): 87
Borrowed (Amazon): 0 (interesting, as Kindle Unlimited went live recently)
Paid (Smashwords): 0
Total for August: 87
Total Sales to Date: 263

Per Story:
“The Snake Charm” at $2.99: 14
“The Snake Charm” free as part of the Kindle Select promotion: 395
“The Fisherman’s Net”: 29
“The Tarot Reader”: 44

Total Gross Income for August: £78.52
Total Gross Income to Date: £217.06 ($358.81)
Costs: £132 for 10 ISBNs
Total Net Profit: £85.54 ($140.61)

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The graph with the free units selected. Makes the rest of it look hilarious.

kdpmonth3-2Graph with the free units de-selected.

Reviews as of today: 
“The Snake Charm” on GR: 37 ratings (20 reviews)
“The Snake Charm” on Amazon: 7 (US),  9 (UK)
“The Fisherman’s Net” on GR: 15 ratings (8 reviews)
“The Fisherman’s Net” on Amazon: 1 (US), 1 (UK)
“The Tarot Reader” on GR: 12 ratings (5 reviews)
“The Tarot Reader” on Amazon: 1 (US), 0 (UK)

As ever, if you’ve read the stories, please please consider leaving a review, especially for Fisherman & Tarot on Amazon. They’re looking a bit lonely.

So far I’ve published around 40,000 words of fiction and made $140 in profit. So, self-publishing is not paying much, technically. However, the £132 was going to be spent anyway for the Kickstarter. $140 is a fair chunk of the cover costs for Micah Grey 3. And also, this is only 3 months in. I can offer these stories for free for promotions or as rewards for the Kickstarter. I’ve learned a lot about self-publishing, and I’ve enjoyed having control over the side project. Writing more about Cyan and Drystan has already made book 3’s first draft stronger. Sales may stay reasonably steady. I might still make the odd dollar or two off these in 10 years. Writing is all about the long tail.

This month I received partial payment for June’s sales – the $61 I made in the US is in my account, with the small Australian/Canadian payments pending. Nothing UK yet–I think you have to reach a threshold of around £150 before you’re paid or something?

In non-self-publishing news: I received payment for my short story in Solaris Rising 3. I’ve received my contracts for False Hearts and the option book, which has the code name of Brainfreeze Book, so I might be paid for that some time in September. I also have 4 creative writing workshops in September and 2 in October throughout Aberdeen. There’s also other cool things behind the scenes I can’t talk about yet.

Next month’s goals: Put up “The Card Sharp,” the final Vestigial Tale to be released this year. Put “The Snake Charm” up on Smashwords because the Kindle exclusive period is up. Research and start planning the Micah Grey 3 Kickstarter. Work a lot on Micah Grey 3, which is getting somewhat close to finished. Keep plotting and researching Brainfreeze Book.

 

The Tarot Reader Fan Art

One of my favourite readers, Laya, has done it again and made some really awesome artwork for my latest Vestigial Tale, “The Tarot Reader.” Check it out! I love the detail on her work and how she brings whatever she draws to life.

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Cyan reading Oli’s palm.
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The Tarot spread for the blurred man.
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Cyan as the High Priestess