1st Month Postmortem: Poke of the Titans

MCMThursday, March 19, 2009

Normally I'd wait for the month to be over before doing one of these, but next week is probably going to be hectic, and I don't want to forget about it. Also, things are looking pretty consistent, so I can extrapolate.

(Just as a quick recap: I do 1, 6 and 12 month updates on how each of my books sells, so you can see what works and what fails.)

The Plan

The SteamDuck books are a strange bunch. They're not meant for kids, but some adults find it odd to read a book with pictures (that aren't comics). I did the first one for kicks, but it became pretty popular in its own little niche. The first two books were done by CreateSpace, which meant I didn't have to pay anything (except to receive the proofs, which I'd have wanted anyway), so it was almost good business sense to make more. With "Poke of the Titans" I wanted to try and expand my audience, if only by a bit. Switching to Lightning Source meant I had to abandon the picture book dimensions (8.5"x8.5") because LSI doesn't print black and white in that size, and I didn't want to colourize the series. As a result, the page count went from 32 to 48, and it gave me more space to play. With all these changes, I figured I could do something really cool. The book would sell for $6.99 on Amazon, and $1.99 as an eBook direct form me.

The Goals I was silly with Poke. I thought if I made it cool enough, I could make it my most profitable title. If I sold only 60 print copies, I'd have broken even (including LSI set up costs) and could call it a success. Based on the first two books' sales (which were mostly donations for the PDFs), I thought that'd be dead easy. If I could sell a few eBooks too, I'd be doing great.

The Pricing Structure Printing with Lightning Source (LSI) is even cheaper for black and white books than it is for colour (obviously). Each copy of Poke costs $2.52 to produce (compared to $3.88 for a 32-page colour picture book). I had the same 40% markup for Amazon and/or Indigo, which on a $6.99 book is $2.80. All figured, each copy would earn me $1.67. Still not a fortune, but if I'd priced the book higher, I would have lost sales, I'm sure.

eBooks are different beasts. I'd toyed with $0.99 for the PDF/ePub version, but it seemed too cheap for the amount of work I put into it. I was trying to figure a relationship between my print price and my virtual one, and I think $1.99 fits the bill. After PayPal fees, I'd earn $1.61 per copy. So I actually do better to sell the print version, which is odd.

The Other Costs For this book, I was careful to avoid a press release. That was a waste on the Pig book, and I wasn't keen to repeat it. I had my set-up costs at LSI, which were $92.88. I made my YouTube trailer for free, but beyond that, I didn't market it much. The SteamDuck series depends on word of mouth, so marketing too much is probably a wasted effort. Maybe. Or maybe not.

The only significant cost I had to cover was sending "thanks" copies out to the various people I parodied or included in the story. That included the editors of Boing Boing Gadgets (who are the three companions who are brutally murdered). Three books between two countries, but it still only cost another $40.15 with shipping. LSI still manages to be the king of cheap shipping, thank goodness.

The Results There was no big push this time around, no Boing Boing boost, so things started very quiet. The first day had 51 downloads, and the second day was only 20. By the end of the first week, the free PDF had managed 612 downloads, which was incredibly small compared to the 150,000 of the Pig book on its first day. On the other hand, it was a very soft launch to a small niche. I was actually surprised it got that many readers at all. At this point (a bit less than a month later), it's had 5,303 downloads. THAT number surprises me even more. I'm starting to be concerned it's people that think the SteamDuck books are the same genre as the Pig book, and getting angry at me :)

Purchases are a very interesting story. I have not, to date, sold a single paper copy of the book. It's listed on sites all over the world, but it's not being bought. I don't necessarily feel bad about this, but I'd be lying if I said it wasn't a downer. The only two print copies I did sell were to people who paid me directly for signed copies, which I didn't expect as part of my business plan.eB Each copy earned me $2.76 in profit (after shipping etc), for a total of $5.52.

What makes up for it is the eBook sales. I've sold 188 copies of the book in PDF and epub formats, worth $302.68. So I've broken even on eBook sales alone. What's more, the sales aren't slowing down, which means word of mouth is apparently driving actual sales, rather than just downloads. Put another way, with this book I'm managing to convert 1 in every 19 readers to a buyer. That's an astoundingly better rate than with the Pig book.

There were no donations this time around.

Grand total for month one of Poke of the Titans is $308.20. At this point with the Pig book, I wasn't even close to that amount. So it would appear Poke IS the more profitable title, just not in the way I expected.

Lessons Learned In the end, I probably should have promoted the book more than I did. I could have begged the Boing Boing Gadgets guys to write about it (even on Twitter), but I honestly didn't write them into the story for that reason, and it felt a bit scummy to ask for the favour after they'd already agreed to let me use their likenesses. I depended a bit too much on my built-in audience, and I think that was a mistake. On the other hand, I knew it was going to be a mistake when I started, but I wanted to see how it would go, regardless.

What I learned from this? Know your audience, and don't waste time or money giving them what they don't want. I have a loyal fanbase of SteamDuck readers who are used to reading my books as PDFs, and I was so enamoured with the print process that I ignored that fact. I don't need to worry about page counts or dimensions or any of that stuff, because they read it digitally. I spent over $100 on costs related to paper that ended up getting me nothing. Put another way: if I hadn't made print copies, I would have $308.20 in profit. Instead, half of that went to set-up costs and shipping.

Because of this, I've changed my schedule for the next few months. The next SteamDuck book is being delayed until late in the year, and it will be a totally new beast. It will be eBook-only, and hopefully with some features that best fit the Shortcovers-based world. I'm going to put more effort into realizing that the medium should match the audience, not the other way around. I'm embarrassed it's taken me so long to figure it out, actually.

What’s Next Next week is the launch of TorrentBoy, which is a much bigger project than any of the previous books. Logistically, I still don't know how it's going to work out, but I'm excited to try. It doesn't fit the same profile as either the Pig book or Poke, so its postmortem should be VERY interesting...

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