By Oon Yeoh
Last week, I wrote about two authors who have been self-publishing e-books and selling them online through their own websites. This week I want to share with you an alternative approach taken by a local author who self-publishes as well but through external services like Kindle and Smashwords.
Pandora Poikilos (the author’s pen name) was diagnosed with Pseudotumor Cerebri, a condition where there is increased pressure in the skull in 2003. She blogged about her condition and this led to the publication of her first e-book “Excuse Me, My Brains Have Stepped Out” on Amazon’s Kindle self-publishing program. The other self-publishing program she has tried is Smashwords.
As a first time author, she was an unknown in the world of e-books. So, she took a leap of faith and participated in Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing Select program, launched in December 2010, which requires you to go exclusive with Amazon for 90 days. During this time, you are not allowed to sell your e-book through any other platform. You are also given a five-day period where your book is allowed to be downloaded for free.
Why would anyone want to give their book away for free? “For me, it was about visibility,” Pandora says. “I’d rather have 10,000 people download my book for free than to have a mere 10 customers who actually bought it.
During the first five days of free downloads, tens of thousands of people downloaded her book and she even briefly hit the #1 spot in the Top 100 Free Kindle store. The tactic worked like a charm. After the free period was over, the visibility she gained led to a few thousands paid downloads.
To date, she has published three novels, three short stories, four non-fiction titles and a calendar-blog series featuring bloggers and authors from around the world. Pandora uses KDP Select’s five-day free promo for all her e-book releases.
What’s the secret to her success? “You need to write a good book, of course, and your cover artwork must be attractive,” Pandora says. “You must also get the formatting correct or else the book will be rejected. But both Amazon and Smashwords offer extensive documentation on how you can format and upload your work to their sites. It’s not rocket science. You just have to follow the steps.”
Between the two, Pandora prefers Kindle. “Sales wise, I’ve sold far more in a month on Amazon than six months on Smashwords, but for some authors it’s the other way around,” she says. So, it’s important to try out both and see what works best for you.
Despite the tens of thousands of downloads she’s been getting for her various e-books, Pandora is not exactly minting a fortune since e-books are generally priced quite low, about 99 cents each. “Most new authors I meet imagine a world of fame and riches after publishing their first book. It doesn’t work like that,” she says, adding that while the potential for making it big is there, it’s important to manage your expectations. “Keep it real. If you are publishing solely to become rich quickly, you’re in for a disappointment. If you are self-publishing as part of your business plan as a writer, to build something for the future, it will be a lifelong journey.”
But money isn’t everything. The best thing about e-publishing, according to Pandora, is the people you get to know. “I’ve met amazing authors like Rachel Thompson and Christine Nolfi who have supported me when I needed guidance. Then there are the e-mails you get from readers about how your words touched them, and made them laugh or cry. I know I’ve made a difference in their lives and that’s a big thing for me,” she says.
Although authors Andy Lim and Amy Ng, from my last column, are enjoying great success selling directly from their own websites, Pandora has had the opposite experience. “I tried selling through my own personal website but it didn’t work,” she says. “I sold all of one copy in six months!”
What Andy and Amy’s experience, which contrasts with Pandora’s, shows is that there is no single formula to success that will work for everyone. For some, selling directly through their own homepages would be the best approach and, for others, perhaps through Kindle or Smashwords. It’s important to experiment and see what works for you. But at least you know some Malaysians have managed to get e-book publishing to work for them, and that’s an encouraging sign.
Oon Yeoh is a new media consultant.