3 S.R. Johannes: The Marketing eXperiment - To eBook or not to eBook

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Marketing eXperiment - To eBook or not to eBook

I have a huge exciting thing to announce....

I'm doing an eBook eXperiment!!!!!  And I am documenting my entire journey on this blog....and I want you to come with me.

Disclaimer: Before I get started, let me say one thing. I wholeheartedly BELIEVE in traditional publishing. I have many friends in this industry (editors, agents, publicist, authors, and self published authors). And to be totally honest, if traditional publishing had worked for me, I may not have thought about ebooking on my own. Why? because I have always wanted to see my books in print on a book shelf,  do book signings, and meet with a big editor in NYC over tea. By me doing an ebook eXperiment, I am not making any statement or judgement AGAINST traditional publishing or FOR indie publishing. This will not be a debate. Just another documented journey. I support indie publishing as well as physical books and would never want to see bookstores or libraries go away, yet I have always supported self publishing as an option because it is a viable one for some people. I am doing this as a challenge and experiment to see if someone who was on the traditional path can do something different that what was originally expected.

But this is not going to be me plugging an ebook to you..... this is an eXperiment.

The difference?? I'm going to document EVERY single thing I do from a setup, launch, cover, marketing, advertising (minimal) and tell you my decision making process from a marketing perspective. I will even keep you in the loop with the sales so we can see what works and what doesn't and how well it does or doesn't. 

In this eXperiment - there will be no pretenses. No secrets. I'm pulling back the curtain and digging in to see what can be done with ebooks. I hope to interview ebook authors to get the scoop and find out what works for them and learn from their successes. They don't get enough credit because ebooking is hard! It takes alot of work.

I'm going to share my thought process and muddle my way through to see if someone on the traditional path can make this work. Sure, some authors with established names and published books do well and then are some authors are ebooking through top agencies that provide marketing. But statistics show that 80% of ebooks sell less than 1,000 copies? What is the secret?

I'll pick up where I left off last week...

To ebook or not? That is the question!

A few months ago, after my agent and I parted, a few of my author friends said "Why don't you just ebook it?"

Well - there are so many questions I had to answer:

Will it cheapen my book?
Will everyone will think I'm not good enough to sell traditional?
What if it doesn't sell?
What if editors think I'm a loser and ban me from the print world?
What if agents think I'm a bust and never give me a chance?
What if all my followers unfollow and think I suck egg?
What if my marketing background doesn't work and I look like a complete and utter fool?

I know what you are thinking - sounds like a lot of ego to me....EXACTLY!

My answer now: who cares! I mean, let's be totally honest here, it's not like me doing all the right things has got me sailing through this industry! After my summer setback, I'm back to where I was 2 years ago. Starting a new book, no agent, and back at the querying process.

The books I love that I've worked hard on for years didn't go all the way. Sure it sucks, but in my defense - they did come real damn close. But like my dad always says. "Close is not always far enough."At least not for me.

Because of all that - my self-inflated ego left the building a while ago and to be honest, HE is what causes most of my anxiety. HE causes most of the problems. HE needs to go on a permanent vacation.

And, I'll be totally honest at the risk of losing followers today, my EGO has unfairly (and silently) judged or questioned others. Those who may have ebooked before, those who may have stepped forward and then back like me, those who lost agents, those who have not sold. EGO would whisper in my head, "maybe they are not good enough? That won't happen to you." (Yeah, I told you EGO was not a nice person and I wholeheartedly apologize to you and the universe for those unfair thoughts and behaviors. Trust me, he won't be around any longer.)

So, now there's nowhere to go but up... right? And to be honest, I was not up for ebooking for the questions I listed above. Until a friend said this to me (so it's her fault if I fail ;) "if you can get a top agent for two years and go to acquisitions more than once - you're good enough."

You know what? They are right. A lot of publishing is being at the right place at the right time with the right project.What gets published is not always the best rising to the top. I know that now.

Now that EGO has left for Tahiti (hey, he gets somewhere nice because -after all -has protected my self esteem for so long too) - I thought through some of the pros:

Maybe I could help others decide if it is right for them
Maybe i can see if marketing "word of mouth" can really sell books.
Where do you get the most benefit?

What constitutes high quality?
Maybe I'll get a few bucks in my pocket.
I'll get my book out sooner
Why not - its edited?
How does marketing differ in traditional vs indie?

Ultimate question: What do I have to lose? Nothing that hasn't already been lost. Could it hurt - I don't think so. Could it help? Maybe. Maybe Not. But I won't know if I try.

Now, to be frank, I decided to do an ebook about a month ago and was going to do all of this under a secret pseudonym for all the reasons I listed above and to test the waters without anyone knowing. That way,  if I failed, no one would ever need to know. Problem is from a marketing perspective and business perspective, it just didn't make sense. My fake self had no online friends, no platform, no contacts in the industry. And nobody was going to support that person. Not to mention, I am just NOT a good liar. And yes - that level of honesty gets me in a lot of trouble so I'm not sure its a good thing - but deceiving people is not in my blood.

That leads me to my conversation with my beautiful friends and CPs Megan, Elana, Katie, Lindsey, and Kimberly (and a couple agents) - who I feel have different views of the industry, are in different stages, and who I trust for different reasons.  Talking about pros, discussing cons, emailing what-ifs, bugging them with the same questions they answered the day before...if it wasn't for their support, I would not be putting myself out here like this....and to be honest....

I'm scared my feelings will be hurt. That I'll lose friends.

Coming up with the experiment

Last week, I was talking with Katie on the phone still pondering using the pseudonym and she simply said: "Why not blog about it? I've always wondered how to do an ebook. Just put out your fears and do an experiment and talk about the marketing and decision making process that goes into it."

Could I do that? Put out all my fears of failure and "not knowing" and be okay with it. Am I brave enough? All those brave indie authors put themselves out there all the time. Why is it harder in the traditional sense - I don't know.

Then I realized, so many traditional authors have talked to me about ebooking over the last 2 years including editors and agents. I've gotten emails from readers on questions about ebooking and ebook marketing. I've been asked by established authors for advice on ebook marketing and by indie authors how to best market ebooks. It's such a new and viable place for books and not a lot of people know what to do with it or how to do it. And it's hard for writers on the traditional path to make a change. It's not what we worked for or expected and making that switch is hard.

And for those of you who know me, if I can find a way to feel like I'm helping other people, then I feel better about doing something for myself. Call it codependence - but I am not one to do things just for me.

So starting today, for all of you who are curious about eBooking and have had the questions I've heard or had over the last 2 years. Can you balance traditional publishing goals with indie publishing goals? Is it viable? Can you make money? How do indie authors do it right? Is it hard to get buzz around it? What is the best way to do it? What is the price point?

I promise to share everything I encounter with you. All the bumps and milestones along the way including my failures, my challenges, and even the financial aspect around it. Even get in some authors and experts in the indie world to teach us what works. It's time we sought out their advice.

Can I be the next Amanda Hocking? Probably not.

Statistics show that in 2010, ebooks sales were only 10% of the market. Unfortunately, many of those only sell about 100 books. Only a small percentage ever sell over 1,000 books. Earlier this year, PW put out an article with eBook sales number sand you can see that even bestsellers can only sell so much.

So eBooking is a very tough market. It's not an author's easy way out. If you don't put the time into marketing, I'm guessing/assuming your ebook won't fly. So to just put out an ebook and then sit back and watch it - is not the way. Indie authors work 24/7 on marketing their books. Something many traditional authors don't do or don't know how to do.

So here I am, using my lovely little book, Untraceable, (that I love) and my marketing background to try out this little project. All in the name of research and a challenge for myself. A way to find some light in this process and see if I can push forward through adversity. 

Worse that could happen? Anyone who knows me knows I go straight to the worst case scenario here first....

I could fail and be a laughing stock of the Internet, indie people will hate me, I'll sacrifice a book I love along with any future possibilities,  ruin my reputation (though it be very puny) in the industry and as a marketing person, lose friends, and be banished to the island of the publishing fails. 

But I just decided if that happens, I'll just vanish and come back secretly under that fake persona I've been creating these past few months ;) No one will ever know its me and I'll just start over. I've done it before and I can do it again.

Best case?  I usually never go here but I will for discussion purposes....

I end up the next Amanda Hocking (which is a long shot and the chances of happening are zip.) I mean statistically, she is the JK Rowling of eBooks. Sure she sold 500,000 copies over a year period but many don't know -  that was because of 9 books she wrote during that time, she never slept, blogged at 4am, and doesn't have kids. Though, she did work hard at a FT time job when she started - so that counts as having 1/2 of a kid (at least 1/2 of mine) . I'm NOT diminishing her success AT ALL - I've followed her blog since she started querying agents before she ebooked - and trust me - she's a sweet and honest genius in her own right who has always worked harder than most, been honest, and also very grateful for her journey. I'm just saying the average person can't write that fast or stay up that late - esp with kids! :)

So, if I go midroad, what could I get? 

I might make a little money (and to be frank I could use it to justify my "writing hobby"to my family and friends who probably think I'm a washed up executive who freeloads off her British husband under the disguise of taking care of kids) - even if it brings in $100, it's more than I make from my writing now. I could make some new friends in the indie market and help them market some of their wonderful books. And, most importantly, I could possibly help other people figure out how to succeed. I could take all my negative energy and put it into something positive. Create a challenge for myself.

Doesn't sound that awful anymore. Does it?

It's purely a way for me to move forward and test the waters. 

So here I am: scared, excited, hopeful, yet realistic about this experiment.

So please, come back and follow me. Let me know if you have friends that have succeeded at ebooking that can share ideas with us. Let your writer friends know about this little eXperiment I'm trying so they can join in the discussion. 

I've including my upcoming topics for the week to the top right corner so you can see the journey I am on...and what is coming up.

Leave me your thoughts, comments, or even the questions you want me to address!


Marty Shaw said...

Great idea :) Looking forward to seeing how things go because this sounds like it will be an interesting journey.

Heather Kelly said...

If I may say, I think that talking about the EGO silently judging others surrounding the e-book issue should earn your followers, not lose you them. Who among us haven't judged (probably needlessly)? I can't wait to see your journey. Good luck. This has been a fiery topic recently, and I understand completely the desire to charter the unknown. And I think it is super smart to dip into both the indie market, and traditional one. YAY for you!!! Woo-hoo!!

Kim said...

Yay!!! I can't wait to see how this turns out. I'll be watching and (reading of course). Hoping for the best for you.

Stina said...

I'm looking forward to this experiment, except the situation isn't the same as for the typical I'm-going-indie writer. You've already got a strong following. This experiment is just a different twist on marketing. A brilliant twist I might add.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

You are far from the first person to travel down this road, so you will find lots of fellow-travelers that can help. :)

p.s. I'm working on an announcement of my own next week (if you want any free advice, just PM me).

Lisa Schroeder said...

Good luck Shelli! I may have to finally break down and get an e-reader so I can read your book. :)

Nicole Zoltack said...

Good luck! Could you maybe talk about why you're going the self-publishing route instead of an epublishing house? Just curious. :)

Shannon O'Donnell said...

I think you are a brilliant and courageous and genuine person, Shelli. I look forward to following you on your journey. Good luck!! :-)

Alyson Noel said...

Shelli- Do you have any idea what a hero you are? You ROCK and I am rooting for you all the way!


Melissa Sarno said...

I am ready to follow your eXperiment Shelli. :) This is all very exciting and I know if anyone can make the process fun and interesting, it will be you. Good luck as you take this new adventure.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Why do I follow you? Your honesty, courage, openness, helpfulness, kindness. Those are a few of your qualities that keep me coming back and will do so whatever path you take.
I think doing an ebook with such candor will draw followers, not lose them.
And, by the way, I know several writers who've decided to independently do ebooks of manuscripts they loved but couldn't sell traditionally. It's a new world, and you're going to be one of the adventurers.

Unknown said...

I decided to go indie in June and it's the BEST decision I have ever made. My book launched today--and I'm ecstatic. The support I've gotten by the online writing community has been exceptional and I couldn't be happier with my experience so far. And, the icing on the cake is I can go to my accountant at tax time and tell her I've actually made some money this year! (even if it is just a hundred bucks :)

Meradeth Houston said...

I'm really looking forward to seeing how your experiment all turns out :) I have an ebook coming out next May with MuseItUp and am really trying to build a platform and all the other fun promotion stuff that goes along with it, so any I'll be really interested in seeing what you do!

Kimberly Derting said...

I'm so frackin' excited for you! This is SUPER exciting!!!!!!

Julie Hedlund said...

Wow! I am so excited for you and for us, who get to learn with you along the way. I think this is a brilliant plan, and I can pretty much promise you the worst-case scenario will not come to pass.

Can't wait to come along on the journey. Go Shelli!

Anonymous said...

I had an agent, got close to selling a book several times, and then wound up getting an offer from a small press and an ePub. I turned both of them down and went indie. I know this is a hugely painful decision for you at the moment, but a few years from now others won't have nearly this much angst because it'll simply be a matter of preference. The reason it's so painful is that traditional publishing is like a religion, so when you start looking around outside the safe walls you've grown up within, you literally feel like you're rejecting your heritage and maybe even going to hell. But you're not going to go to hell, no matter what some folks in the industry might tell you. In a few months you'll feel just fine.

I was a little worried about giving up that traditional deal, afraid I might later regret it, but I don't. Not even a little bit. I love being an indie author. I think that you, with your marketing savvy and small business experience, will love it, too. It's so incredibly empowering to be in charge of all the decision making, from the words you put on the page, to the way you market you book, to the freedom to give away copies.

Two words of advice: get a professional cover designed and make sure your sales copy rocks. You have a natural advantage with your huge following, and I think you'll be able to sell a lot of books. If you want an insider perspective from someone who's pursued both avenues, shoot me an email. I can direct you to some good sources of information and offer advice on formatting. I just did an interview on this subject on Casey McCormick's blog last week.

Katie Anderson said...

Fascinating!!! I can't wait to go on this journey with you!!! CONGRATS!!!!!!!!!!

Dawn Kurtagich said...

Good idea :D Looking forward to the chronicles of your eJourney! :D

KellieM said...


I think this is great. I know you are putting yourself out there but so many of us will learn through you and are here to cheer you on. I will buy your ebook when it comes out!

You are worried you'll lose friends, but if they'll give you up over this, they really weren't your friends.

Have confidence, give us the details, and if you can, will you tell us how long it took to do some of the things you have to do? Not just list the tasks, but also include the time the tasks take?

I love this experiment and appreciate you for sharing your journey with us.


www. tightywritie.blogspot.com

Kelly Polark said...

Shelley - Thank you for sharing with us step by step. Epublishing is a viable option for most of your blog readers. Believe me, we are interested to see how it goes!
Good luck to you!!!

Unknown said...

Cool idea, Shelli! I can't wait to follow your journey. :)

Shelli (srjohannes) said...

OMG you guys are so nice. Thanks so much. I think Ive responded to your emails with notes! :)

Unknown said...

Can't wait to see what happens next! I'm rooting for you!

Kate said...

Best of luck, Shelli.

I've just started the self publishing process, my manuscript is now with the editor and I've set my release date as December first... although I may release it earlier.

I've had so many of those doubts too. I've blogged about my decision to self-publish and the fears associated with it, but as nervous as I am, I'm just as excited too.

Can't wait to see how you go :)

Jack Blaine said...

As a traditionally published author who is epubbing under a pseudonym, I have to say go for it! It's easy, fun and fruitful!

Shana said...

Hi Shelli! I followed a link from Lindsey on Twitter and ended up here reading your post. :) I'm a traditionally published author who released an ebook this summer. I had all of the same concerns you did: would it cheapen my work, will everything think I'm not good enough anymore, will anyone even buy it?? But I'd already been two years without a new book out, so I threw caution to the wind (with my agent's support) and put it out there.

It's been a fun and surprising ride. I hope it gives you some added confidence to hear that my ebook has sold over 3,000 copies in less than 3 months and we've now sold translation print rights to two foreign publishers. I've been amazed by the response to the ebook and am just very happy and relieved to have something new out there for readers. I had gotten to a point where I completely doubted my future as a writer and wondered if it was worth it to keep trying. I agonized over whether to release an ebook because of the concerns about not being good enough or appearing as if I was admitting defeat. There was also a risk of not finding my audience because even though I had readers for my first two books, a lot of my readers were young--mostly 5th to 7th graders--and most of them found my second book through their school book fair. I have no idea how many of them read ebooks or would hunt down and buy one from me, plus my ebook is for a slightly older audience. But I decided that I didn't have anything to lose if it failed, so I needed to at least try.

I'm still a big believer in traditional publishing, but I'm also a believer now in indie publishing and I love that there are options for us. It is very empowering to take control of my career and I've seen the results of this feeling in how much more I'm writing these days. I hope to continue indie publishing along with traditional publishing in the future. To you or anyone else considering doing this, please feel free to email me if you have any questions about my experiences. I'm happy to lend a hand!

Good luck to you in your eXperiment! I'll be following along and cheering your success! :)

DL Hammons said...

This idea ROCKS! I'm on-board and can't wait to follow you along this path! :)

Jemi Fraser said...

Brilliant idea. I think your openness and empathy and total sweetie-ness make this a great decision - and that's aside from the fact that I can't wait to read your book! It's going to be a success - glad I'll be able to watch and learn! :)

Vicky Alvear Shecter said...

My brother is doing something similar. I think it's the probably the way the whole industry is going--and you're getting in front/ahead of it all!

Victoria Lindstrom said...

Shelli - At the end of each of our writers' critique meetings our members invariably land on a discussion of Indie-Publishing. We will be watching your journey, and cheering you on!

Sherrie Petersen said...

Awesome! I can't wait to read this novel. It's the one that got noticed in the Amazon contest, right?

Shelli (srjohannes) said...

why yes sherrie it is - It used to be called Grace Under Fire!

i think it made the semi finals in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel in 2009. Top 500 out of 10,000 (I think and also along with Elana Johnson's).

Thanks for reminding me :) I need to look that up...

Lindsey Leavitt said...

Balls out, girl. I'm so excited that you're doing this has SHELLI, not JELLY BELLS. I'm rooting for you all the way. You're a star!

Anonymous said...

Go Shelli! Good luck on your experiment - it will be fun to learn along with you, because so many of us have questions about ebooking. You will absolutely not be a laughingstock, because you have too many friends who support you. Again, good luck!

E. Arroyo said...

Good for you! It looks like you put a lot of thought and effort into this and it sounds great! It must feel nice just taking back control of what you feel is right. I'm not there yet, but I hope to be. Great inspiration!

Megg Jensen said...


Best of luck to you. I stepped out of the traditional race in December 2010 and published my first ebook in February 2011. I was a faithful follower of your blog for quite a long time and we've conversed in the past via email. (Megg is a pen name, so don't freak out that you have no clue who I am - you might recognize my real name.)

I had a lot of trad friends who dumped me when I announced I was going indie. Some stopped returning my emails. Others outright told me I was a "traitor" and a "cheater."

I am over-the-moon pleased to see your friends publicly supporting you. This is an amazing & beautiful thing. I am thrilled for you and I hope you find your journey through epublishing to be rewarding. :D

Best of luck!!!!!

Megg Jensen

Anonymous said...

Good luck!!! Can't wait to see what happens next! :)

Stasia said...

Can't wait to follow your journey!

Natalie Aguirre said...

I'm excited for you. E-books are good for some and not for others. You seem to be in a better position to market them because of your marketing experience.

Do you know P.J. Hoover and her blog Roots in Myth? She e-published her most recent book with the help of her agent. She's networked a lot with other authors going this route and I interviewed her at Literary Rambles. She also talks about it on her blog. You might want to connect with her.

And don't worry about the voice saying I'm not good enough. We all have it whether we're published or not.

Greg Pincus said...

Good for you, Shelli! Looking forward to watching the experiment unfold.

Steph said...

After reading your past few posts, I want to thank you for your honestly. I look forward to following this eXperiment, and of course, reading your novel when it releases. Good luck!

Natalie said...

Good for you! I'll totally be following to see how your experiment goes. :)

Elana Johnson said...

I'm behind on blogging (when am I not?) but I can't wait to follow your journey on this. It's going to be exciting and probably exhausting for us all.

Congrats for taking the plunge, Shelli!

Creepy Query Girl said...

I'm glad somebody is documenting all of this. I've seriously thought about ebooking but am only in the information-gathering stage at this time and I will definitely be keeping a close eye on your experiment! What a fantastic idea!

Sandra Ulbrich Almazan said...

Good luck with your story! I'm indie-publishing my first story in a couple of weeks, and it's been a great process so far. (We'll see how I feel after I tackle the formatting.) It's freeing to know I can write to any length and still be able to publish it. I look forward to hearing about your progress.

Cynthia Lee said...

I will be following your journey with great interest.

Thank you for doing this. :)