Monday, 20 September 2010
A self-publishing success story
Eric Christopherson is the author of the thriller Crack-Up, which tells the story of Argus Ward, a former U.S. Secret Service agent who runs a protection agency catering to the rich and famous. His best-kept secret is his status as a high-functioning paranoid schizophrenic. One day, he turns psychotic for the first time in twenty years, and lands in a secure psychiatric facility, charged with the murder of his most famous client.
The reason I’m interviewing him here is that he’s self-published, and been remarkably successful in selling his book. To date, he’s sold over 6,000 copies of Crack-Up in ebook format, and as I write Crack-Up is at 18 in the Amazon Technothrillers category; a feat that most self-publishers, including me, would love to emulate. Of course, it helps that his book is a gripping read.
First things first: how did you come up with the idea for Crack-Up?
It’s highly autobiographical. Just kidding. Psychology (my undergraduate major) has long been an interest, and one day I thought: “Wouldn’t it be fun for readers of thrillers to read a book told from the perspective of someone who suffers from delusions and hallucinations? They wouldn’t be able to tell what’s real and what’s not.” The bonus was that the disease is very interesting in its own right, as I discovered through my research. But I didn’t have a plot to go with the character, and the idea noodled in my brain for years before one finally came to me.
Why did you self-publish?
The first literary agent to read the book (Joe Veltre, a former editor at Harper Collins and St. Martins) fell in love with it and tried hard to sell it over a period of years, ultimately without success. The most frequent reason cited for rejection by the editors who considered purchasing the book was a belief that readers would have a hard time identifying with a protagonist who suffers from a serious mental disease. But that really hasn’t proven to be the case, based on feedback from actual readers.
With the book rejected by major publishers, I had the option to turn to small publishers or to self-publish, and in July of 2009 I self-pubbed, after reading about Boyd Morrison, a thriller author whose book had also been rejected all over New York until, two years later, his agent resubmitted the novel and it finally sold to Simon and Schuster on the strength of thousands of Amazon Kindle sales. Initially, I was hoping to repeat his experience.
Initially? Have you changed your mind about mainstream publication?
Yes, I've changed my mind to some extent. A year ago, I would have jumped on any offer from a major publisher, but now I would weigh whether to do so carefully. If I were to be offered a six figure deal then that's nothing to sniff at as well as an indication the publishing house would really get behind the book, but if it's five figures, then I might actually be better off financially in the long run by holding onto my rights and continuing to self-publish because the book isn't likely to get a big push, I'd have to give away most of the book's future earnings, and publishing houses are now--thanks to the digital revolution--trying to hold on to book rights in perpetuity and I'd likely never get my rights back--unless big publishing folds due to all the recent and pending upheavals. I don't think it will, but it could look very different in five years. I predict that half the people now working for one of the Big Six publishing houses in America won't be by 2015 and that all the books they publish will be blockbusters, seven figure deals. The great thing about making predictions five years ahead is if you're wrong no one will remember but you, and if you're right, you can dig out the evidence...
What made you decide to concentrate on e-publishing, rather than bring out a paperback, or do both?
There’s a service called “Bookscan” that can be used by the publishing industry to track print sales, and I didn’t know whether I’d sell well, and therefore preferred not to have Crack-Up sales be tracked, lest the numbers haunt me down the road when, or if, I decided to approach major publishers again with the book. The sales numbers, as it turned out, have been quite good, so I don’t have that excuse anymore, and the truth is I’m lazy at self-marketing. There’s a bit of work involved in getting a print edition together. One day I’ll find the motivation, I suspect, so that people without ereaders can buy the book.
I think the most difficult thing about selling a novel, however good it is, is to get the ball rolling initially; to attain visibility on Amazon. How did you achieve this?
I was very lucky. I uploaded the novel on Amazon and then did nothing. I sold only one book in the first two weeks, but it was to a woman known as “RedAdept”: a frequent reviewer and commentator on the Amazon Kindle boards. She loved the book enough to tout it in a discussion thread or two, and within two days I’d sold over two hundred copies and reached #1 on the Amazon Movers & Shakers list. It was this experience with Crack-Up that spurred Red Adept to start her popular book reviewing blog (see http://redadeptreviews.com). I still have no personal website and although I recently established a Facebook fan page I really haven’t used it (told you I was lazy).
I noticed that Crack-Up has a lot of enthusiastic reviews on Amazon. How important were reviewers in helping to sell Crack-Up?
Crack-Up has never been reviewed except by readers and by Red Adept, but simple mention of the novel on Kindle-related sites is very beneficial. For example, Crack-Up sales peaked in June of this year, cracking the overall top 100 in the Kindle store after a mention at: http://ireaderreview.com. A few other blog sites have been kind enough to mention the book, each time bouncing sales. I’m sure all the five-star reviews on Amazon help to sell the book, but I don’t know to what extent.
You must have learned a lot during this process. Is there anything you would do differently?
I should really get a website and solicit more blogger reviews of Crack-Up and make a dead tree version available. I’m sure I’ve squandered lots of potential sales by being lazy with the self-marketing and with getting a print book in place.
The good news is with ebooks, as opposed to print books, one doesn’t have a short time in which to make the book a success. For example, my best sales month with Crack-Up came 11 months after publishing. The passing of time often rids a print book from the store shelves but actually helps an ebook on Amazon by associating it with other ebooks and making it more visible.
Thanks for the invitation to discuss my book, Lexi. I feel less lazy today!
Posted by Lexi at Monday, September 20, 2010