About a year ago, I started making my previously published short stories available on Amazon as individual Kindle e-books. I’ve already written about my reasons for trying to get my stories published in magazines before self-publishing them, and I still feel the same way. But, after a story has been published in a print or online magazine, it doesn’t always remain easy for readers to find. I wanted to ensure that anyone looking for a particular story of mine would be able to purchase and read it for a minimum of effort.
I haven’t done much to promote these stories beyond occasionally mentioning them on my blog or in my newsletter. I didn’t even design (or pay someone else to design) covers, instead allowing Amazon to display them with their generic green and black placeholder image. I felt that the time I would have to spend learning how to design covers would be better spent writing, and that I was unlikely to recoup what it would cost to pay someone else to do them (probably $10 per cover, according to various sources including Dean Wesley Smith’s blog post on traditional vs. self-publishing of short fiction (some of which I agree with and some of which I don’t)).
Sales are about what I expected. I have 6 stories available, selling at 99 cents each (this page has a list of all my published stories, and shows which are available in Kindle editions). Most have sold around 5 copies. Amazon pays 35% royalties for 99 cent books, so that’s around $1.75 that I’ve made on each one. Better than nothing, but since I was paid anywhere from $15 to $500 per story by the magazines that originally published them, I’m not about to switch to exclusive self-publishing for my short fiction anytime soon.
One story is an outlier. For some reason, “The Shoemaker’s Daughter”, which I published on Amazon on October 30th, has sold 50 copies in just under 2 months, and is still selling 5-10 copies a week. I don’t know why. I haven’t seen any reviews of it, and I’ve done practically nothing to promote it. I mentioned it on a Canadian writers’ mailing list to which I belong, and in my newsletter (which has something like 30 subscribers), but only after it had started selling well. This is the first time I’ve mentioned it on my blog. I’m happy that it’s sold so much better than expected, and grateful to everyone who’s purchased a copy. But I can’t explain it.
Except. If you look more closely at the Amazon page for “The Shoemaker’s Daughter”, you’ll see that “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought” a novel called The Shoemaker’s Wife, written by Adriana Trigiani and published by HarperCollins. The Kindle version is, as I write this, #563 on the Kindle bestsellers list (“The Shoemaker’s Daughter” is #80,528, but the rankings are widely variable from hour to hour, even minute to minute, once you get this far down the list).
Is that the answer? My short story is selling moderately well (for a short story by an unknown author) because it happens to have a similar title to that of the latest novel from a bestselling author? Do people go to Amazon planning to buy Trigiani’s book, start typing the title into the Search field, and one of the other titles that comes up is mine, and they decide to give it a chance because, hey, it’s only 99 cents? If that’s what’s happening, most if not all of these people seem to also be buying The Shoemaker’s Wife, so I can’t feel too badly about it. I only hope they realize when purchasing it that my story has absolutely nothing to do with Trigiani’s novel (which I’d never heard of before trying to figure out why my story was selling, since it’s not in one of the genres I follow).
I don’t plan to start picking titles like “Harry Potted” or “Fifty Shades of Blue”. It’s nice that some new readers might have decided to buy one of my stories (assuming my hypothesis is correct), and I hope they enjoy it. (If you read and liked “The Shoemaker’s Daughter”, “The Year of the Bear”, also available on Kindle, is set in the same secondary world, so you might like that one too.)
But … I guess I should work on getting all my old stories up on Kindle, once the rights have reverted to me. Just in case.