Fiction Print-on-Demand Published By Subsidy Presses

I thought I'd wrap up Amazon week with a look at how to use their database to draw conclusions about the book business. One of the more common questions I get about book promotion is how to promote fiction, especially fiction published by the major subsidy presses (iUniverse, AuthorHouse and Xlibris) using print on demand. The reason I'm hitting on the big subsidy presses here, plus the hybrid PublishAmerica, is because they release so many books it makes it easy to look at a large sample size. Since none of these publishers do any meaningful marketing for books, the sales are comparable to what you could expect from self publishing your own fiction and doing your own promotion. While it's true that there's a stigma attached to using the subsidy publishers in the eyes of many professional reviewers, it doesn't seem to prevent the authors who really work at promoting their novels from succeeding. Of course, if you're really willing to work at the publishing business, you're always better off investing the time and money to set up your own imprint than using a subsidy publisher.

My favorite feature on Amazon is the Power Search box available on their regular search page. You have to scroll down past the regular search boxes, which are quite powerful in themselves, but at the bottom of the page is box that supports Amazon's Power Search language for doing fairly complex database searches. For example, I just typed in:

publisher: iuniverse and subject: fiction

and got back a list of 7201 titles. Interesting factoid right there, about half of the books published by iUniverse are fiction. Sorting by Bestseller, the top book is "Waiting for the World to End" by Nicole Hunter. The sales rank indicates that it's currently selling around 2 copies a day on Amazon, and the 110 reviews and 588 Google hits on the exact title with her name suggest that she does a good job promoting the book. The consensus of the reviews is that it's a heck of a good book. Skimming down the list of iUniverse bestsellers, it looks like the top 100 or so are selling a few copies a week. So, I got ambitious and tried the following search:

publisher: iuniverse or xlibris or authorhouse or publishamerica and subject: fiction

which yielded up 38,237 results, of which 6073 were published this year (just add "and pubdate: during 2005" to the query). The top seller now is "Surge" by Rod Tanner, published by AuthorHouse, and from the cover art, it looks like a novel about a storm surge. Timing is everything. The next book, "The Asylum of Howard Hughes" by Jack Real isn't fiction at all, but the Amazon search returned it because it's in the "Fiction and Literature" category for whatever the reason. This brings up an important point about using the Amazon database. You have to filter the results through your knowledge of what's going on. For example, recently published titles should be taken with a grain of salt, since a few dozen copies sold to the author's friends and family can temporarily bump it up to the top of a bestseller sort. The trick is to come back and check in a week, and again in a month, until you get the feel for how the sorts work for whatever genre you are watching.

The first full length book I ever wrote was a fiction novel, Going Green, and I was fortunate enough in my timing to get it included in Yahoo's directory for web published fiction. In fact, its main claim to fame is the Chicago Manual of Style supplement uses is for an example of how to cite Internet published works. About once a year I get an e-mail from somebody saying it's a great novel and that I should really find a publisher for it, but the truth is, while I enjoyed writing it and it launched me on my career as a professional writer, it's just not very well written, so I've never bothered publishing it on paper myself. Since I already have an ISBN block and a relationship with Lightning Source, I could get the book in-print and available through distribution for about $100 and the effort of designing a cover, but I'm waiting for some college girl to rewrite it for me.

But back to the subject of promoting fiction on the Internet. One logical approach is to look at the success stories generated by our Amazon sort above, Google the titles and the author's names, and look at how they promoted their fiction. You'll find them some of them managed to get reviews by "name" reviewers and opinion makers like bloggers. You'll find many references in newspapers and other media outlets where these authors managed to get an interview, and you'll find a few instances of clever usage of the book promotion services available on the Internet. You'll also find some authors who have websites or blogs that deal with wide ranging subjects but still serve to promote their fiction to a segment of their readership. It's a numbers game. If you can get a thousand people a day visiting your website, there's a good chance that at least one of them might be in the mood to buy your novel if you present it to them properly. If you can sell a couple hundred copies of a fiction work in the course of a year, nobody can say that you didn't get your chance to shine. That's enough readers for word-of-mouth to start taking over as the primary promotional method, providing your book is as good as you believe it is. And that's why I haven't published my novel even though I believe I could get that initial couple hundred sales in time.

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