This blog is devoted to remembrances and essays on general topics, including literature and writing. It has evolved over time, and some older posts on this site might reflect a different perspective and purpose.

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Friday, March 22, 2013

Who Are These People, Anyway?

            By my best calculation, the last friend to buy my mystery novel did so on January 9 of this year. That was when I gave a talk on self-publishing to my Rotary Club and sold about a dozen copies after the meeting.
            From that point on, I figure every book that’s sold has been to a stranger, someone who doesn’t know me at all. Well, maybe not every one. There are no doubt a couple of stragglers out there who know me and have been meaning to buy the book but haven’t. But the bottom line is that I’ve reached that tipping point that every first-time author has to face. What happens when your friends stop buying the book and your sales depend on people you don’t know?
            This is not an insignificant question. I read somewhere that the average self-published book sells 150 copies, and the number is no coincidence. Sociologists say that’s how many people the average person knows tolerably well, through family, school, work, church, and other organizations. How the first-time author gets past 150 sales is the sixty four thousand dollar question.

Numbers on a Computer Screen

            Since the beginning of the year, when I figure my friends stopped buying it, my book, The McHenry Inheritance, continues to move on Amazon. Almost every other day one of those strangers I wonder about shells out $2.99 to buy the e-book version. The print-on-demand version sells less well, but still gets a couple of bites each month. And when I offer it free as a one-day promotion, the numbers steadily improve. In January, I did two promotional days and “sold” 154 books. For two days in March the number is up to 378.
            (A cynic might argue that the volume of free books simply establishes what mine is worth, and perhaps that’s so. But there seem to be fifteen to twenty thousand free books available each day on Kindle, and a lot of them seem to be moving in single digits, so something about my book must be ringing a bell.)
            The sales figures for my book are mere numbers on a computer screen, and I wish I had some way of knowing more about who is buying the book and why. The people who actually paid for the book (albeit less than they’d pay for a latte) clearly had to make a decision, but what about the ones who take it when it’s free?

Literary Hoarders

            I wonder all sorts of things. How much time do they spend considering the book before adding it to the cart? What’s the tipping point that makes them buy? How many free books do they “buy” in one shopping spree? How many are seriously interested, as opposed to simply locking it in for nothing, just in case they feel like reading it later?
            There’s no way of knowing for sure, but I suspect that quite a few of the free sales are to people I would characterize as literary hoarders, people who can’t stand to pass up a free book because maybe some day they’ll want to read it. Many, if not most, will never open it, or if they do, won’t read beyond the first few pages.
            What I have to hope for is that a handful of those who impulsively snapped it up free will eventually read it. That probably won’t be for a while, because they didn’t really set out to buy it.  But if they like the book, and tell their friends about it, those friends might actually go to Kindle and pay for it because they want it. I can only hope.