So is my book promo helping to destroy the publishing industry?

It's my first blog post of 2014, and so far January has been extremely kind to my new novel, Unfashioned Creatures, which came out in November. Sales figures on Amazon have shown in regularly in the Kindle top 20 for literary fiction - hooray! (You can even check it out here! http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B00F0L12XS/ref=s9_simh_gw_p351_d0_i1?pf_rd_m=A3P5ROKL5A1OLE&pf_rd_s=center-3&pf_rd_r=1CAGX3RFWV09P2BPVZB8&pf_rd_t=101&pf_rd_p=455333147&pf_rd_i=468294)

But before I sell myself even more shamelessly, or pop the champagne corks, I have to remind myself that these sales figures are the result of a Kindle promotion - my book is on sale at 99p for the month of January. As a result, the e-book has rarely stepped below 700 in fiction altogether.

When my book first came out, I got some lovely print reviews and I wrote a piece about Mary Shelley and being inspired by the book's central character, Isabella Baxter Booth, for the Independent on Sunday (http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/features/mythology-monsters-and-mary-shelley-the-enduring-fascination-of-frankensteins-creation-8958012.html?origin=internalSearch).

It received 659 online shares - quite a feat for a literary article, I promise you. Did that visibility translate into online sales of the printed or e-versions of my book? Not according to my Amazon ranking it didn't, which moved not a jot. The newspaper reviews I received didn't shift it a lot either, neither did appearances at book festivals. Then suddenly the e-book was offered at 99p to Kindle readers and - whoosh!

It presents a writer with some ethical issues. For many, the Kindle promotion is simply ensuring the demise of traditional publishing, proper advances and experimental work.If you're selling your book at 99p, I've been informed by others that you'll earn back about 20p as the author. So in order to make just £2000 you'll have to sell 10,000 copies. Not hard in the early days of the Kindle promotion, perhaps, when unknowns could suddenly make it big, shooting to number one on the back of hundreds of thousands of discounted e-book sales. Now, with more competition, it's more difficult, but it's not impossible. £2000 is hardly enough to live on, but if it's not impossible to sell 100,000 copies, that figure suddenly becomes £20,000 and look - you can finally afford to give up the day job and be a full-time writer.

What such promotion also means is that people are buying books not according to what they like, or what is recommended to them, whether by an online blog or a newspaper review - they're buying according to what is cheapest. No real revelation there, perhaps. But it's possibly also contributing to the decline in professional reviews (as a professional reviewer I'm aware that I'm being hit several times over - by newspaper revenues declining which means less money for books pages; by people reading me even less than before to see what books I might recommend they consider checking out because they've got the likes of Goodreads to go to instead; by people buying according to price not recommendation).

So am I, by agreeing to the Kindle promotion of my novel, simply ensuring my own demise as a book reviewer, and harming publishing into the bargain? I have had to ask myself several hard questions, and what it's boiled down to is this: I'm with an independent Scottish publisher that doesn't have vast resources for massive promotional campaigns, so how are enough people going to know my book is out there? If I take a more noble stand and refuse the promotion, and my book sells less than a thousand copies in a year, will any other publisher touch me with a barge pole? (considering that sales figures are now all-important?). Do I want to write just to be read by my friends and family? Or do I genuinely think I've got a story to tell that people need to hear?

The publishing industry has seen various methods work in terms of sales - Richard and Judy's book club, following on from the phenomenal success of Oprah's, became one sure-fire way of garnering best-seller status for a while - at the cost of all those other writers who didn't make it on to their lists. In the last couple of years, it's been e-book promotions, though as I said, there are starting to be less effective and more competitive, the more writers that are signed up to them. And at a cost of driving down prices and therefore publishing advances.

No doubt, when that runs its course, something else will come along. As a writer, I just want people to publish my book, buy it and read it. Reviews give you a bit of status; prizes even more so, and both can help with sales, although neither are a guarantee of them. But only when publishers (and by 'publishers', I guess I also mean agents, editors, marketing depts) stop assessing everything in terms of sales figures will writers feel they really do have options. Last week the Erotica writer Sylvia Day received an eight-figure advance. Eight figures! The idea that big publishing doesn't have the money to pay its writers properly is therefore farcical - the money is there, all right. But what are they - and by extension, we - investing in?

I guess I'm trying to say I don't feel I have a choice. If I want to be published again, I have to demonstrate that my book can sell. And to demonstrate my book can sell, I have to accept whatever current ways there are of doing that. Or do I?      

 

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