Thursday, 15 December 2011

An obvious (and slightly inconvenient) truth - Nicola Morgan

You know that thing when you realise something and then you realise it was incredibly obvious and you feel embarrassed for not having realised it before? Well, that. But, just in case there's anyone else out there who hadn't thought about this, I will share it with you. Please tell me I am not alone in my foolishness.

Non-fiction is much easier to sell than fiction. And now I realise why.

First, let me tell you how I realised that this was even the case. In August I published my book on Twitter - Tweet Right - The Sensible Person's Guide to Twitter. And in November I re-published Mondays are Red, which was my debut novel back in 2002. I published both books as ebooks only.

Now, Mondays are Red should have had an advantage because it has been published before and has a raft of lovely reviews from newspapers as well as readers; also, it's been out of print for a couple of years and people are still asking for it. But it's selling about a quarter of the number that Tweet Right sells on a weekly basis. (Which is not a vast number, let me tell you, but it's very respectable.)

And this is despite the fact that I did more to push Mondays. A blog tour, for example, which I didn't do for Tweet Right. And TR is more expensive. And shorter. It is, by word count, much less good value. With Mondays are Red, I pleaded with my blog readers and employed blatant emotional blackmail. I never did that with Tweet Right.

However, none of that really worked. (I'm actually a bit relieved - I don't like pleading or blackmail! And btw, let me be clear: I do NOT expect people to buy out of duty.) So, TR continues to outsell Mondays by about four times.

And it seems to me the reason is obvious.

When you try to persuade a reader to buy your novel, you're trying to persuade them to want this one more than thousands - hundreds of thousands - of others. Even if yours is the genre they like to buy, you're still competing in a crowded, often poorly differentiated market. It's easy to be invisible. (Especially since there are some things I won't do to get myself or my book seen.)

But if they are looking for a book about something - Twitter, or my next topic, writing synopses (Write a Great Synopsis - An Expert Guide, coming in January!) - there are very few books that I'm competing against. Very few indeed. It's easier to be seen. Also, it's relatively easy to find the audience, because you know where they hang out. But readers of novels are everywhere, everywhere, I tell you. And they are slippery. God, they are.

So, it's obvious when you think about it, isn't it? It's much more a numbers game than we'd like to think.

In view of this, I will not bother to plead with you to buy Mondays are Red. Honestly. Don't. There are hundreds of thousands of other novels you might like almost as much. But, on the other hand, there's only one at the other end of this link. :)

EDITED TO ADD: I have a suggestion: if any published* UK authors with YA titles which are also in ebook format for Kindle would like to get in touch, I'll do a blog post (on my blog) after Christmas which will list them, with links. SO, if your book is YA, published and in ebook format, email me, in this order: title, author, publisher, 25 words to describe including genre, and Amazon link (UK or US, just one). By Christmas Eve. 

(* I'm really sorry but I have to offer this only for authors who have had novels published by a trade publisher. This is purely so that I don't end up having to put eleventy million books in a blog post when I could be eating mince pies.)


Sarah Duncan said...

E-publishing is great, but I think people forget that it's only the technology that is new, the principles of self-publishing remain the same - that producing a book is relatively easy, selling it is quite another matter.

Book production you control, buyers you don't (worse luck). The new technology doesn't change that, if anything, it makes it worse because book production used to be harder and more expensive so it limited the numbers trying self publishing. As you say, it's an inconvenient truth that the numbers matter, but hey - at least you're selling!

catdownunder said...

I think there is one other thing as well. Some people are being reminded of the book's previous existence so they hunt out their copies and pass it on. Other people will pick up second hand copies after hearing about it. The numbers may not be large but they may have a small impact. That though does not help you much!

Nicola Morgan said...

Cat, I think that's really unlikely and won't impact. If they are reminded of its previous existence that only firms it in their minds and makes them more likely to recommend. Seriously, if you're suddenly reminded about a book you like you don't think, "Oh yes, i'll go and find it on my shelf and then lend it to someone." You either do nothing, read it again, or recommend it when it comes up in conversation. And the secondhand copy thing has always been an issue but again does serve to tell people about the book.

Sarah - indeed!

M Louise Kelly said...

Thanks, once again, for sharing your experiences, Nicola. It's so helpful for those of us still on the dark side (i'm still pretending to believe it'll all be lovely and sparkly and bright in publishedville) to have the benefit for your experiences.

I did buy Mondays are Red on ebook - and i already have a paper copy - cos I did think it was payback time, so don't feel embarrassed....

My main thought, however is about buying ebooks as presents You can't. Can you? (if you can, can someone please let me know how.)

How many YA sales are accounted for by present purchases, do you think? I bet lots of kids' books are bought as presents. but i'm genuinely not sure about YAs. I buy lots for the teens I know, but don't know if me choosing the titles is actually seen as dictatorial! Also, lots of christmas-time sales are bought as presents, so maybe this is a slow time of year to launch something which needs necessarily to be a purchase-for-self.

Anyway, hip hip hurrah for you. You didn't even hesitate in turning what might be seen as negative into something giving and that deserves a big chocolate (70% min) santa *squashes one into the keyboard in the hope some will make its way thru the ether to you*

Liz Kessler said...

I think it's over-simplifying things to say on the basis of this experience that it's easier to sell non-fiction than fiction. In my opinion, the main reason your non-fiction book is outselling your fiction book is probably much more to do with the subject matter than the simple fact of it being a non-fiction book. A book about using twitter is absolutely 'on trend' at the moment, and is much more likely to be gobbled up than a re-release of a novel that doesn't necessarily (or at least, obviously) relate to something that is quite so 'now'.

Plus, the places that these books are being mentioned are largely social networking places - which again totally fits the subject of the non-fiction one. I think that your synopses book will also sell well - not because it's non-fiction, but because it's about a subject matter which is very close to the hearts of the people who follow your on twitter, read your blog etc.

So it's not non-fiction per se that sells. It's getting the right subject at the right time. You have done this very successfully - yay! :)

Having said that, I think that selling ANY book is hard, and depends on a huge number of factors - the largest of which being the ones that no one can pin down with 100% accuracy - thank goodness. If they could, we might not have the wonderful variety of books that exist today, and publishers might stop taking risks on anything outside of the latest 'big thing'.

Stroppy Author said...

I'm close to Liz on this one. Your followers are the market for your n-f books; they are not the real market for your fiction. Some might buy it out of curiosity, or loyalty, or because they like reading teen fiction, but they are not teens looking for fiction to read. In addition, those of us who have read it as a part of our background reading in YA are not going to buy it because we've read it. (I'm not being unsupportive here, but you *know* writers are in financially hard times at the moment, and buying a second copy of a book is not top of the list of must-do spending.)

It's also true that if someone who had never come across your work searched on Amazon for books about twitter, yours might come up (haven't tested, but I assume it would). If someone searched for YA fiction, Mondays are Red would not come up in the first few pages (unless, perhaps, you were searching the Kindle store). So partly true, but there's a lot else going on.

In terms of selling to publishers, it's currently harder to sell non-fiction than fiction (or so I'm finding). Which is a complete turn-around...

Nicola Morgan said...

Stroppy - "It's also true that if someone who had never come across your work searched on Amazon for books about twitter, yours might come up (haven't tested, but I assume it would). If someone searched for YA fiction, Mondays are Red would not come up in the first few pages (unless, perhaps, you were searching the Kindle store)." That's exactly my point. It's easier to sell and find the market for non-fiction, because when you're looking for something on a topic there are fewer to search amongst.

And Liz, what you say is kind of what i'm saying as well. Mmmm, chocolate - thank you!

Thanks for all comments, everyone. I *do* agree that it's wrong to make a judgement based on a tiny experience, but I still *do* think it's easier to sell non-fic.

I think my main point is that the fiction marketing probably only reached people who already knew me and/or the book, whereas the non-fiction marketing reached outside that.

And I didn't mean to suggest that my blog-readers didn't buy Mondays are Red - they have been very supportive. I meant the whole caboodle of what I did didn't seem to pay off as well as for the non-fiction title. I'm hugely greatful not just to people who bought but to people who tweeted or even mentioned it. And I certainly didn't expect anyone to buy it twice!

Thank you, Louise, btw! Above and beyond!

Nicola Morgan said...

Louise - it is possible to "gift" a kindle title if you have the kindle email address (each machine has an email address, which is cute!) AND if the recipient makes sure that YOUR email address is "unblocked" from the account. So, you have to communicate a bit with the intended recipient. I'm sure it will get easier.

What I'm hoping is that this is the year when lots of teenage readers get Kindles for Christmas and they'll all be looking for ideas...:)))

Which leads me to suggest something to help all of you published authors who have YA titles in Kindle format - see the bottom of the blog post, where I have added something.

Katherine Langrish said...

This and all the comments are fascinating - I haven't even bought a Kindle yet, but I'm beginning to feel I really must, or be left behind. Some of the things I used to think wouldn't work on e-books (pictures, etc) already are, and I'm sure it's all going to get even more exciting. As for what makes someone buy a book, wish I knew. But Nicola, I'm in awe - you are a trail-blazer! :)

Anne Cassidy said...

I think there is a problem about buying Kindle books as presents especially for Young Adults. There needs to be something tangible in this gift. What if when a kindle book was bought they were to send a card to the recipient that says something like

On 25th Dec XXXX book has been bought for you. Please download at your convenience.

Something like that

Liz Kessler said...

For what it's worth...I just put 'YA books about synaesthesia' in google, and Mondays are Red came up on the first page! 'Books about twitter' seem to have so many that actually, 'Tweet Right' didn't show up. (Although it did when I put 'twitter' in Amazon.)

Which doesn't really tell you much, except that this whole thing is really a LOT more complex than any sure fire answers that any of us (or anyone else!) can ever pin down with a formula!

And also goes to show that there are all sorts of ways you can fritter time away on the internet when you are on a deadline!

Oh, and I think the chocolate came from Marie Louise not me by the way! Although I'll have some if it's going spare :)


Ebony McKenna. said...

How about this theory- your nf titles are selling because you've become an expert in your field . . . By writing fiction.

As in, your nf titles are all about the craft etc of writing fiction. With the exception of Tweet Right. But, you wouldn't be the expert you are and sell so many nf if you hadn't written all the fiction in the first place - and - the blog is where you've built a strong platform.

I don't know what sells fiction. All I know is that waaaaay back when I directly tweeted links to my books, I lost followers.

Stroppy Author said...

Yes, Nicola, I know that's what you were saying! I meant there are aspects of both - that searching, and your followers being the real market for Tweet Right - boost sales of TR rather than fiction.

Kath, you don't need a Kindle. You can read Kindle books on your phone, iPad or computer :-)

And I'm not convinced that so many teens in the UK have/use Kindle yet. My teen's peer group don't. Not at all. And they are literate, middle-class and in a high-tech oriented city. So adoption is patchy, at best. It is a very complex formula, obviously.

Nicola Morgan said...

Liz - I bow to your awesomeness and will now go and revise my whole thoery. Or ditch it and take up chocolate-eating. Oh, hang on...

And Louise - sorry and thanks for the chocolate from you. I'm all over the place today.

Stroppy and Liz and everyone is right. I'm wrong. But it was fun having a simple theory while it lasted :))

Liz Kessler said...

No! Wait! It's YOUR awesomeness that is the whole point! You've written a book that is absolutely on the money in terms of the market, you know how to write for this audience, you know your facts about the subject matter and you know how to get the book into your audience's hands as well. THAT is the awesome part!

My argument is just about the fact that I don't think the distinction is quite so clear cut, and that there are a lot more factors involved. I'm probably also motivated by a desire to believe that we CAN help to get our fiction books in front of the right people, because fiction is what I write!

And the theory is a great one because it's got us all thinking and talking about some very interesting issues! :)

Nicola Morgan said...

OK, we're *all* awesome :)) That's a much better theory.

Now, have a mince pie.

Stroppy - yes, it's patchy. But I've been asking the questions when I've done school visits over this year and there's a lot of excitement about the idea (of e-reading - usually on phones) amongst keen teenage readers. And, interestingly, lots of school libraries are investing in the idea, and that's helped me a lot. I gave afree ebook copy of Mondays are Red to a load of schools, and that may lead to sales later.

Any schools just need to ask me, btw - there's a copy for all.

Katherine Langrish said...

Stroppy, I know I can read on the computer, but I don't like to... though it may be something to to with the fact that to do so, I have to sit upright in a sort of hallway on a hard wooden bench. My laptop is not connected to the internet - the other thing I cd use would be my notepaddy thingy, but the screen is so small, and yes I know I could enlarge the font but I hate reading things a paragraph at a time, it feels like wearing blinkers.

But Nicola's all round awesomeness is beyond doubt!

Nicola Morgan said...

kath - I agree about not finding it comfortable or Bookfeelingy to read on a computer or similar screen. until I got a Kindle for my recent birthday, I was reading on an iPad, and I was quite amazed at how much I love reading on the actual Kindle and how much better it is than computer/notepad screens. that is not a helpful thing for me to tell you, and i will forgive you if you retract the awesome status thing.

And by the way, LOTS of people are doing the publishing-your-own-backlist-as-ebook thing, including lots of other Sassies and others. I'm not really trail-blazing or awesome :) (You should see the state of my flat right now.)

Frank McGinty said...

Hi, Nicola et al. I'm one of those who bought Nicola's Tweet Right recently and as a result posted my first tweet this afternoon. I then followed a Twitter link here. I'm beginning to see how it all works - and I like it! Thanks so much, Nicola.

I remember my publisher (at Piccadilly Press) telling me that non-fiction for YA would outsell fiction because NF on an evergreen topic would live on. I've certainly found that to be true - but that could be down to my writing, pure and simple! (Perhaps my one novel didn't click. I know it could have been marketed better. It's lost in the mists of time, but I still get sales from the NFs.)

To crown it all I've just completed two fiction books for the 8-12 range, but am considering going down the ebook line. Does anyone know if younger kids read from iPads etc?

On the subject of chocolate, I'm thinking of starting a club called 'Chocolate Is Not a Girl Thing'. Honestly, the girls I teach think I'm a wimp when they discover my secret passion!

Re. mince pies. Oh-oh, yes... What a way to spend Christmas - but only if they're iced!


Katherine Roberts said...

Patience, Nicola, patience! The beauty of ebooks is that they (in theory) stay in print for ever - or as long as the Kindle format and Amazon survive.

Not being able to gift Kindle books in the UK yet is a big problem for children's ebooks. You can do it in America on, but the "buy as a gift" button is not on yet, and neither can we loan Kindle books over here, which makes giving away review or promotional copies a bit difficult. (When I asked Amazon about this, they told me they are thinking about introducing these features to the UK soon, so I'm sure it will happen).

Congratulations on your e-launch, by the way, and do drop by at Authors Electric to say hello when you have a moment... we are making good use of that Twitter account you set up for us!

Ebony McKenna. said...

I have another theory that scares me.

Non fiction craft books sell the dream that "you too can write fiction".

There is a secret code - all books are written to a formula, obvs - and once those sneaky gate-keeping writers let slip those secrets like a Freemason's handshake, everyone will have the secret knowledge and everyone can be a best seller.

Meanwhile, fiction only sells dreams.

A part of me died inside as I wrote that.

Keren David said...

Funnily enough,I was recommending your twitter book to someone this week - as I explained to them how to use twitter - and they weren't able to buy it because they didn't have a kindle or the technological know-how to work out how to read e-books on their PC. And I wondered if the people who need the twitter book most are the ones least able to access it.
As for Mondays are Red, surely it's because the twitter book is for all ages, while Mondays Are Red is mainly for Young Adults?

Anonymous said...

I found your Twitter book by searching for something to help my SIL and that led me to this. It also reminded me that I had a copy of Mondays Are Red. (Have to confess I started to read it and never finished it.) I gave Mondays Are Red to my younger cousin. Her verdict was "it was a bit weird". I guess we all like different things but the Twitter book is great! Andrea Tomlinson

Nicola Morgan said...

Frank - hello! Thanks for buying Tweet Right and I'm I terested in your experiences. And hooray for being in touch with your chocolate side :)

Keren - but I don't think the YA market is necessarily smaller than the market for a book on Twitter. After all, most people on Twitter got there without any book.

Katherine (Roberts) - ah, I'd forgotten about the gifting thing not being available in the UK. And yes, I will have patience. I still think selling fiction is harder. Last night I was a the Publishing Scotland party and we were talking about it - all those i spoke to agreed that this is the case.

Anonymous - hang on! Mondays are Red is VERY weird!