Here’s another in my series of guest posts discussing the changing face of publishing. In this one, dark fiction author Shane Jiraiya Cummings talks about his ‘grand experiment’. He’s decided to leap with both feet into the ebook self-publishing world and make the majority of his previously published work (and a couple of new things) available as ebooks, managing the whole process himself. He’s being openly transparent about the mechanics and results, so have a read here about where he’s gone so far and then follow along to see how it pans out.

The Grand Experiment

Shane CummingsFilled with that euphoric sense of new year’s I-can-do-anything-ness, in January, I embarked on what I call the ‘Grand Experiment’ with ebooks (yes, not just an experiment but a GRAND experiment!) Sure, plenty of other authors are testing the ebook waters with a title or two, but I don’t believe this is enough to gain a foothold. Therefore, I released seven ebooks simultaneously into the wild on Amazon and Smashwords. With my novella Phoenix and the Darkness of Wolves already available, I currently have eight ebooks online. I also have two more in production and another few on the drawing board.

With eight books, I’m hoping the splash will be big enough for me to drum up 1,000 sales over the course of this year, and if I’m lucky, I might even join those industrious authors like J. A. Konrath, Scott Nicholson, or Amanda Hocking at the top of the e-food chain. But before I entertain delusions of grandeur, I’m taking things one week at a time.

PhoenixAside from my sales target, the other thing I’m hoping to prove is whether short story collections and novellas will sell as successfully as novels. In the bookstores, novels are king, but I’m not so sure the same rule applies in the e-world. Five of my Grand Experiment titles are collections (the ebook version of Shards, which has two new stories, and the four volumes of the Apocrypha Sequence). The other two – The Smoke Dragon and Requiem for the Burning God – are novellas (as is my other ebook, Phoenix and the Darkness of Wolves, but this was published by Damnation Books, not self-published, so I have no control over its pricing).

My desire to prove that collections and novellas will sell well is not some wild stab in the dark. Others have already paved the way. Author Lee Goldberg on J. A. Konrath’s blog said this month:

“My most profitable title, in terms of hours worked and pages written, is Three Ways to Die, a collection of three previously published short stories. In print, it’s a mere fifty-six pages long, but it’s selling 24 copies-a-day on the Kindle, earning me about $1500-a-month. That means I could potentially earn $18,000 this year just from those three short stories alone. That is insane.”

$18,000 for three short stories? Yes, that is insane, but it’s not beyond the realms of possibility. And remember, that’s in just one year. I consider myself fortunate that I’ve been successful as a short story author. I’ve made more than a few ‘pro’ sales over the years, and by pro, I mean the SFWA and HWA rate of 5 cents/word. If you add up all my short story sales (and I’ve had more than 60 published so far – more than 120 sales when you count reprints), I estimate I’ve earned maybe $2000 from my short stories thus far. If you average that out, it’s $33 per story. So you can see why I’m enviously eyeing Lee Goldberg’s $18,000. Good luck to him, I say, but in the same breath, I say, if he can do it, why can’t I?

The early signs are looking good. The Smoke Dragon, which is free on Smashwords (but 99c on Amazon because of their pricing limitations), has rocketed up the ‘most downloaded’ fantasy chart at Smashwords, and in a week (and without much in the way of promotion), it has been downloaded 230 times and been given two great reviews (one five star, one four star). Plus, I’ve sold two copies on Amazon. The fascinating thing about The Smoke Dragon is that it was available as a free PDF on my website for more than 12 months. You know how many times it was downloaded from my site? Three.

ShardsI’ve read articles about music downloads and iTunes that suggested people want convenience over free stuff. Pirating music is finicky, prone to viruses, and just plain inconvenient for the average punter. It can also make people feel guilty. However, the convenience and prevalence of programs like iTunes is such that most people don’t mind paying $1.69 for a song because it’s easy and guilt-free. The same theory applies to ebooks, which is why I wanted my books on Amazon (the market leader), not just Smashwords. It’s also why I’m not selling my titles from my website – it’s one more set of clicks that people used to the convenience of Amazon or Smashwords just don’t need.

If nothing else, I’ve already expanded my readership by embracing the e-revolution. In one week, 230+ people have read a story which, even though it was a Ditmar and Aurealis Award finalist, I couldn’t give away. Another 110 people have downloaded samples of my other ebooks, and of those, a dozen have purchased my titles. Right now, the numbers are small, but again, it’s the very first week, and except for some mates/colleagues mentioning my Grand Experiment online (for which I’m immensely grateful!), I haven’t yet properly promoted my ebooks.

I used to lament that I couldn’t get my work read beyond the Aussie small press diehards (bless them!). Well, now I’ve done it. I’m reaching new sets of eyes, and the exciting thing for me is that almost all of my ebooks are reprints. These are second, third, and even fourth bites of the cherry, but only a few hundred people at most have ever read my short stories, so it doesn’t matter that they were published in small press magazines and anthologies. Repackaged as ebooks, they’re ready for the wider world to enjoy.

I can’t see any downsides to embracing ebook self publishing so far, but the ultimate test for me will be when my novel is ready (which should be soon). I’m torn between approaching a progressive publisher (who publishes ebooks and print books) or going it alone and self-publishing. This is why the ebook revolution is such a heady time for authors. If we choose to take total control over our destinies, there is a reasonable chance we’ll fail, but if we succeed like someone such as Amanda Hocking – a previously unpublished author who sold 99,000 copies of her ebooks in December alone! – then the rewards will be worth it. For me, the next 12 months will decide my course one way or the other. Wish me luck!

If you’re curious to see how the Grand Experiment progresses, you can follow it here.