Friday, July 20, 2012

A data point for the self-publishing world

So, in the ongoing effort to get people to read Raise the Gipper!, which I'm very happy with but which I am guessing will start going stale in September*, I'd been offering it free online, in a chapter-per-blog-post format, over at this sister blog. Originally I figured I'd use that to start some conversation and get a few more people to give it a try for word of mouth, so since the actual Republican convention starts on August 27, I figured I'd take the free version down a month before.

I did say, originally, "unless I change my mind," and here's what's changing it for me: about half of all the orders for Raise the Gipper! are coming in from the "of course you can also just buy it" links embedded all through the sister blog.  Apparently folks read till they either decide they don't like it (about a third decide it's not for them by the end of Chapter 1) or decide they'd rather just have a copy and read it in their preferred format (blog post is not the most pleasant way to read, but it's free**).  There's a nifty little exponential decay curve down through about Chapter 7 (the chapter where the Gipper actually rises and starts doing zombie stuff), with people either disappearing or buying the book (and as you'd expect, the further they read, the more likely it is that they'll move to a buy), and then a small (like, less than 20 so far) devoted coterie seems to be reading right out to the end.

The real numbers seem to be that for every 25.8 people who click into Chapter 1, or every 17.2  people who read Chapter 2, I get a sale either from my e-junkie bookstore or via Amazon or Barnes and Noble. 

Well, honestly, the freebie is much more than paying for itself.  Much as it pains my fingers to type "Corey Doctorow appears to be absolutely right" I am forced to by sheer statistics.  So at least till sales slow down a lot -- and maybe not even then -- I'm leaving the read-it-free-on blog page up. (Link to your right, and go right ahead).

And for other writers venturing into self-publishing, let me just point out three things I think are probably very relevant:
1) Political satires like this were a nearly extinct genre, so there's a very large number of readers who don't know if they like them; the benefits of letting them try as much as they want are pretty important.  It's not like erotic romance, for example, where there are tons of readers and it's generally agreed between writer and reader that this book is going to have plenty of That, which the reader will want, the equivalent of operating a pretty good pizza joint or hamburger stand.  It's more like  selling Turtle Sauce Picante, where most people have no idea whether they like it; you need to let them sample a lot.
2) The blog-per-chapter format works pretty well because a person who really gets into it can just keep clicking the link a the bottom of each post and zip right on through, but it's just inconvenient enough so that they'll notice this could be a good deal more convenient for just $4.99. I'm not sure if I were just handing out free downloads if it would work as well.  Maybe some future book I'll try those.
3) I do have a non-economic motive here; satire is a weapon -- if it doesn't aspire to lethality it isn't satire -- and I don't think anyone will have any trouble telling which side I'm on in the current election.  So much as I wish everyone on the planet was buying this book and making me rich, I get immense satisfaction from having any sizable number of readers, and therefore I'm not likely to be disturbed by any lost sales.  Mileage on such issues varies a lot.


*when it turns out that the Republican party did not actually nominate a shambling corpse for president, Earth is not actually under attack by evil bugs from outer space who have taken over the brains of the financial/economic/political elite, and Occupier girls and Tea Party guys don't actually go out with each other (sadly, that may be the least likely of everything in the book, including divine intervention)

**another insight: most of the people who read the whole way through in the blog are reading on their phones or other mobile devices.  I think it's just that this particular blog template has a nicer mobile than full-screen format.