Why my first eBook failed to sell well

Introduction

Meg LaTorre, the literary agent-turned-author who hosts the iWriterly series of YouTube videos about book writing and publishing, described the pros and cons of self-publishing a book in this video, which was posted to YouTube last month:

Skip to the 23:44 mark of the above video for the point that is relevant to this blog post.

Near the end of the video, LaTorre, who herself chose the self-publishing route for publishing her debut novel, described a major disadvantage of self-publishing, in that it is easy to publish a bad book. Given that literary agents play a major role in the traditional book publishing process, the fact that a former literary agent chose to self-publish a book that she is writing gives you a general idea that there are a lot of advantages to self-publishing, but there are disadvantages to self-publishing as well. This blog post is not a criticism of self-publishing, but rather a cautionary tale to remind those who are considering self-publishing a book to not make the same mistakes that I did.

I self-published my first eBook, Lady in the Fast Lane, which is the first of what will be two books in The Chronicles of Vazkelt series, about a month and a half ago. The book has sold only two copies in the first month and a half that the book has been available for sale. That’s not a typo. It’s time for me to do something similar to, although less humorous than, what Jackie Gleason did long before I was born when a game show that he hosted turned out to be an abysmal failure and be honest and admit several reasons why I believe my book did not sell all that well. To be honest, if the SBNation YouTube page wanted to do a video about my book being the worst sports-themed book, they have my permission to do so.

I rushed the whole book-writing process

It took me only a month and a half to write a novella-length eBook. A novella is a literary work of fiction of a length between that of novels and short stories; a novella will typically be of a word count of at least 17,500 words, but less than 40,000 words, although this is not necessarily a strict definition of a novella. Lady in the Fast Lane is in the upper half of the typical novella word count range. A month and a half was not enough time for me to write a novella properly; I should have given myself at least two more months than I did in order to have been able to write a better-quality novella. Me rushing to get my book published led to the book being written with a very clunky writing style, as well as entire sections of the book having the feeling of being tacked onto, or shoehorned into, the book. In fact, some chapters and scenes were tacked onto, or shoehorned into, the book by me due to not coming up with an outline for my book before writing it.

Writing the eBook was done in a trial-by-error manner

Not really knowing what writing an eBook would involve at the time I set out to write my first eBook was a major reason why my first eBook was not a success at all. At various points in the writing process, I changed computer programs that I was using and the manner in which I intended to publish the book. About halfway through writing the book, I switched word processor programs from OpenOffice (which does not allow for saving documents in the .docx format) to LibreOffice (which allows for saving documents in the .docx format, making conversion to the .epub format for eBooks much easier). While writing the book, I originally planned to publish the book exclusively to Amazon Kindle via Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) and have the book available in both eBook and paperback format. Instead, I eventually decided to publish the book in eBook format only via PublishDrive, which allows for eBook-only self-publishing to multiple eBook stores like Amazon Kindle, Apple Books, and Barnes & Noble Nook, among others. While PublishDrive is fantastic for eBook-only self-publishing, switching to PublishDrive required switching from KDP-oriented computer programs like Kindle Create to Calibre, a program designed for formatting an eBook for submission to multiple eBook sellers. Furthermore, I was forced to drop chapter numbers and scene dividers from my book due to formatting issues that resulted in my book failing the all-important .epub validation multiple times before I knew what I was doing wrong and was able to fix the errors and get the book to pass validation. I probably would have been able to self-publish a higher-quality book if I knew what I was doing the whole time instead of doing everything in a trial-by-error method.

I did not give any literary element other than plot serious consideration

While a work of fiction has to have a coherent plot in order to be readable, I will admit that, when writing my first eBook, the only thing I took into serious consideration while writing it was ensuring that the book had a coherent plot. In particular, conflict, typically a very important element to a work of fiction, was pretty much an afterthought for me while writing my book. In fact, my book pretty much lacked a true lead antagonist because I wanted the concept of misogyny, rather than any one character who was a misogynist, to be the antagonist. As a result, there were multiple characters, none of which had an iron-clad claim of being the lead antagonist, who represented the concept of misogyny, and there was more of a focus on Kaiser Easthouse, an ally of the lead protagonist, Karen Yellowdragon, than any of the antagonists. While the book’s point of view was clearly third-person, I didn’t give consideration to what kind of third-person point of view would be used in the book because, while writing the book, I wasn’t aware there that there was more than one kind of third-person point of view.

The book did not fit neatly into any genre and was too much of a genre mashup

As LaTorre mentioned in the video that I’ve embedded in this blog post, one advantage to self-publishing a book is that one can do a genre mashup, in which a fiction or non-fiction book includes elements of multiple genres. However, my book was so much of a genre mashup that it became extremely difficult to classify in any genre whatsoever. My book contained one element typical fantasy works, in that the setting in a fictional universe, but completely lacked the magic or supernatural elements typical of fantasy works. My book contained a couple of political scenes, but politics was not the primary element of the book’s plot. There are car crash scenes in the book, but the book was certainly not an action or a thriller. The book was set in a time frame that roughly corresponded to the mid-20th Century on real-life Earth, but the book was not exactly a historical fiction due to being set in a fictional universe. My book ended up being classified as a lesbian fiction, and that was by total accident, and only because the lead protagonist is lesbian. Believe it or not, I did not intend for the lead protagonist’s sexual orientation to be acknowledged in any way, and it was only after writing a radio talk show scene that I got the idea to have the lead protagonist come out as lesbian. I thought that I did a good job developing a lesbian protagonist character, although I could have done much better in that regard had I set out to write a book with a lesbian lead protagonist in mind from the outset.

The book tried to appeal to two demographics with very little overlap

My first eBook is a lesbian motorsports fiction. The goal of my eBook was for the book to appeal to both the LGBTQIA+ community (as someone who is openly polysexual, I am part of the LGBTQIA+ community) and motorsports fans. These are two demographics that have very little overlap. As a result, the book tried to appeal to one demographic that consists mostly of people who are not diehard motorsports fans and tried to appeal to another demographic that consists mostly of people who are culturally conservative and probably aren’t that interested in reading any kind of works of fiction, let alone one featuring an openly-lesbian protagonist. This made it pretty much impossible for me to properly promote my book to any kind of audience whatsoever.

I led a motorsports-themed book with a war/home front scene

EBook sellers often will give potential buyers of an eBook an opportunity to preview the first part of the eBook (typically the first 10% or so of the eBook). I was not aware of this before I submitted my book for publishing, and, had I been aware of this, I would have written a completely different first chapter that would have involved a pre-war car racing scene, with the lead protagonist as a spectator, than a war/home front scene in which the lead protagonist loses her job as a wartime factory worker after a war ends. Leading a motorsports-themed book with a scene that wasn’t a motor racing scene probably confused people and resulted in some people who might have been interested in buying my book deciding not to buy my book.

The primary setting of the eBook was not Vazkelt

While my eBook is part of a planned series called The Chronicles of Vazkelt, Vazkelt, a fictional archipelago of islands, was a secondary setting for my eBook. The primary setting of my eBook was a fictional supercontinent called Lahyrnt. Originally, I envisioned Vazkelt as a continent in its own right, but eventually decided to completely alter Vazkelt into an archipelago of islands near a supercontinent because I thought that would make the lead protagonist’s journey to become a successful race car driver much more dramatic. That came at the cost of making the name of the series sort of a misnomer. The next eBook in The Chronicles of Vazkelt series will be more Vazkelt-based than Lady in the Fast Lane was.

The cover of my eBook was, for lack of a better term, awkward

The cover of my eBook was designed entirely by me. Believe it or not, I used a computer program called Inkscape, which is not really ideal for creating an eBook cover for one big reason, for creating my eBook cover. As Inkscape doesn’t have a built-in feature to export to the .jpeg file format, I had to export to the .png file format, which Inkscape has a built-in feature for, then convert the .png version of my eBook cover to the .jpeg format using a program designed for that purpose. Also, the cover was rather blurry, at least in part due to my choice of text font and text color. I probably would have been better off using a different computer program and creating a cover that was drastically different in design.

Conclusion

While I will not pull Lady in the Fast Lane from the eBook market (in fact, if anyone actually wants to buy the eBook, links to where you can purchase Lady in the Fast Lane can be found here), it is important in life to learn from mistakes. The biggest mistake that I made while writing Lady in the Fast Lane was not knowing what I was doing when I set out to self-publish an eBook, and this explains a lot of the mistakes I made. While self-publishing an eBook can be rewarding, it is imperative to know, before you begin actually writing your book, that you know what you are doing. When I self-publish my next eBook, my next eBook will be of much better quality.