Learning by Failing - A "The Foreign Effect" Post Mortem

So, at the time of writing, "The Foreign Effect" has been available for a bit more than four months, after some struggle with some delay also via Amazon. Looking at my pretty much non-existent sales I can't deny the fact any longer, that the time has come to write a post mortem, partly for the people interested in the whole "Releasing a book by yourself" thing, partly for me to formulate and clarify my learnings from this experience.
So here we go:

"The Foreign Effect" released on lulu.com on May 1st 2018 followed by an eventual Amazon release roughly two months later. At the time of this Post Mortem it has sold a whopping five copies. One on Lulu.com and four on Amazon. Before we look into detail why it didn't sell more let us look at the things that went right:

PRO #1: Designing a Cover

I had the advantage of having a person in my social circles that had previously designed book covers for a living so I took the advantage and reached out to her. Lisa and I found common ground quickly and iterated on a couple of ideas that immediately went somewhere great. In my experience working with artists, I like to give them a short initial briefing with tons of reference material and let them work freely from there. Every now and then I would get some drafts, which I provided feedback on but, again didn't get too hands on in the alterations, as I find that to dumb down the results. As expected Lisa delivered a kickass cover on pitch, on time and on budget that was within the technical restrictions given by the publishing service - which I cannot thank her enough for.

PRO #2: Generating buzz pre-release

Leading up to May I came up with 6 weeks worth of "preview" content - be it cover reveals, or the Go-Live of this website etc. - in order to keep the idea of "Hey, I am going to release this book thing soon" in the heads of my friends and followers on social media. There was a clear trend visible of raised engagement with my posts be it comments/replies or likes/retweets/favs. In the small circle that is my social media following I cleary generated some buzz which was eventually killed off by the delayed Amazon release.

Which brings us to the things that went wrong:

CON #1: The books on demand service of choice

Going into this I looked at several books-on-demand services available. I was quickly turned off by the Amazon program as for my uninitiated eyes there was quite a lot of legal red-tape where I wouldn't feel all too comfortable with. So I went with another service that allowed for international release of books on demand copies.
Initially I was quite fond of the tools provided as it allowed me to upload and update my script and my cover without any problems. The issues arose post launch.

  • The Amazon delay
    Releasing The Foreign Effect on Lulu.com on 1st May 2018 I thought getting the book listed on amazon would be a thing of days, maybe a week or two. This was partly my fault as I should have done more research beforehand and the fact, that this listing process can take up to 6-8 weeks IS mentioned on the page, be it somewhat awkwardly hidden.
    The fact that I had to wait for 6-8 weeks for a global amazon release coupled with the fact that buying the book on Lulu is weighted down by adding tons of additional charges (taxes + shipping) on top of it basically nullified any momentum I had built via social media messures going into my release. Quite frankly I am surprised that I sold ANYTHING via amazon once the book was available two months later.
     
  • The lack of transparency
    During that 6-8 week timespan and afterwards I got into contact with Lulu's customer service several times as there was no transparency at all if something was happening. I one day realized I was listed on amazon.fr but nowhere else. I wasn't notified that I was being listed in .fr and once I inquired about why there was no other listings, I didn't hear back for 10 days before I got a two sentence email, basically telling me "it is fixed now" - apart from the fact that it isn't, I am to this day not listed on amazon.ca but at this point I gave up on the whole thing.
    As an author you have absolutely no insight into what the books on demand service is doing with your book, which feeds directly into the next point.
     
  • The delay in revenue analytics
    While sales on lulu.com are displayed in realtime in the author area of the page, sales via amazon have again a delay of 4-6 weeks until they are visible. For me, that is merely annoying, but for any author who releases a book with the intent of making money off of it, it is basically impossible to plan your revenue with a system like that. 

CON #2: The quality of writing

I can't really blame anyone else but me for that one, but the fact of the matter is, "The Foreign Effect" is simply not very good. Or to phrase it more politely: Not as good as it could be.

I basically got feedback on the inital version from three people which I incorporated and reworked quite a lot. After that rework I had the idea in my head, to find other people to review this draft as I was of the notion that if I gave the draft to the same three people again, they would just look for the alterations I made regarding their feedback, and I didn't think that would be productive.
As I failed to find other people who a) were willing to read the thing and b) gave good feedback I somehow lost track of the fact that it would be still better to have the initial three people read the draft again, instead of pushing for the release version. Which, quite frankly, was pretty fucking stupid of me, but as the saying goes, sometimes you do not see the wood for all the trees.

A second mistake I made was cheap out on the editor. I am not a native English speaker and I cannot afford the services of a professional editor. So I cheaped out and found someone on Fiverr who did an editorial for approx. 70 bucks. To noone's surprise but my own, that editorial was bullshit. Upon giving preview copies to a couple of native speakers I was told that there were still quite some mistakes in the printed version. But at that point it was already too late to pull out.

CON #3: Too many preview copies

As a release that was targeted primarily for me to spread among my social circle, I made the mistake of giving out too many preview copies. Roughly sixty (60!) copies of "The Foreign Effect" were handed out to friends, co-workers, aquaintances etc. of which maybe half read the thing and even fewer gave any feedback at all. I was overwhelmed with the whole "I made this" feeling of holding a physical copy of your first book in your hands and - quite untrue to my normal nature - was too generous and kind by handing out copies en masse.

Conclusion

If anything, the release of "The Foreign Effect" was a learning experience. Writing the Cons down might sound as if I am being cynical about it, but I am not. I'd rather make these mistakes by releasing a "hobby project" instead of running into them when it counts. I learned a lot these last couple of months and I like to think, that I will handle a lot of things better the next time around. 
Focusing on one big PRO that I didn't mention prior to that - as a person who has been writing in one form or another since he was 15, for once, I went all the way with a project. I finished it, I released it (and now I buried it?) which is more than most hobby-writers can say. So enough sour grapes! Onward to the next project.
I hope this litte Post Mortem helps other aspiring authors to avoid the mistakes I made and make alltogether new ones themselves ;).