Over on Google+, I lamented briefly at not having a good option for offering pre-orders; last night I put in the order with LSI for the 50-copy Limited Edition hardcover print run for Never Let the Right One Go, and won’t be able to sell any of those copies until after they’re actually here (and signed and numbered and ready to ship). Payment services like PayPal (yech) and Google Checkout don’t technically allow pre-orders; you must not charge customers until your product is ready to ship (or shipped), or you violate the TOS.
Someone commented, asking, “Have you looked at http://backmybook.com/? It’s what Scott Sigler’s using — and Scott Sigler pushes preorder of his books pretty heavily in his podcasts.” This was my reply, and I thought it worth re-posting, here:
I never get past the front page, where it says they charge more per month than I earn from my books most months, just to set up a store, and double that to try to build a community around the books. You have to keep in mind I’ve not got lots of eager, paying customers: A clue is my recent Kickstarter – which I used as a way to sell pre-orders of this book, actually – which failed because I could only come up with 14 backers.
The pre-order system I’m looking for needs to be cost-effective at selling as few as half a dozen books. Really, any store I set up needs to be that way, right now. Last year I sold 26 paper books and 133 eBooks, or an average of just over 13 copies a month. That’s across all platforms and venues – I can’t afford any platform which costs more than the <$25/month I make in sales across all platforms (most months); even $10/month is really too much.
I sell more copies each year than the last, and for most titles each new book is more popular than the last – I’m building an audience, slowly but surely. (Last year an average of over 1,500 people/month downloaded my free eBooks, and a little over half as many downloaded my free audiobooks.) I’m in this for the long haul. In another five or ten years I expect to have passed the inflection point where my books sell enough copies that I can throw money at services like Back My Book and MyWrite, and where a signed numbered limited edition hardback release doesn’t take several years to sell 50 copies. (Which, frankly, is an optimistic outlook for Never Let the Right One Go, right now. Could take a decade.)
This also precludes services for hosting/selling digital goods (there are several out there, most charge a minimum monthly fee) such as ZIPs of my audiobooks (without all the extra intros/outros/chatter that you get on podcasts), or eBooks. In fact, it also means I don’t have a business checking account, because the minimum monthly fees would cancel out half my monthly business (and the situation was much worse four years ago when I started doing this full time) – I still do everything through my personal accounts. As a general rule, if a service provider between me and my customers operates on a subscription model or on upfront costs, rather than piecemeal (per transaction costs), I can’t afford it. My business is not regular enough, yet.
As I keep posting, even the upfront costs of printing paper books (and the subscription-type costs of keeping them available for “market distribution”) no longer make sense to me; the 50-copy print run of Never Let the Right One Go could, potentially, wipe out this entire year’s revenues, if few copies sell. I don’t expect to create paper versions of my next 4 (planned) books, three of which are YA novels. By the end of this year, I’ll have cut off the “Market Distribution” for every single one of my (paper) books; the eBooks and audiobooks will still be everywhere, but the paper versions will only be available directly from modernevil.com. With any luck, this will help maintain my gradual, but steadily increasing, distance from losing money on every book, every year.