Friday, January 28, 2011

Guest Post by Sam Torode

As I've mentioned many times, I get a lot of email. Though I can't respond to it all, I do read it all. Some of it is fan mail, but an increasing percentage of it is from writers either asking for help on ebooks or telling me how well they're doing.

This email came a few days ago from a writer I don't know.

Dear JA,

My self-pubbed humorous novel, "The Dirty Parts of the Bible," just passed 5,500 Kindle sales for this month and is ranked at #70 in the Kindle store. I'm still in shock, and don't know how long it will take for this to sink in...

How to sum of the years of disappointment and bitterness trying to get traditionally published? I spent 3 years writing and honing the book, and it was the most satisfying creative project I'd ever worked on. The 2 years that followed, trying to sell the manuscript, were like tossing my heart into a meat grinder. It was rejected by over 100 publishers, from every big house in NY to small presses in Texas (where most of the book is set). I did manage to get an excellent NY agent who shopped it for a year, but to no avail. The real killer was when an editor at Penguin said she loved it, but the Penguin *marketing department* shot it down. (Did I mention bitterness?)

I self-published a paperback version, but it never sold more than 10 copies. I work as a professional book designer for small presses. I *love* real books, and I collect antique volumes of my favorite writers. I scoffed at the Kindle. So I just never thought of putting "Dirty Parts" out as an e-book.

More than a year after I had completely given up looking for publishers, I entered Amazon's "breakthrough novel" competition. My book made it to the top 50 last year, but was again shot down by Penguin editors/staffers when they narrowed the crop down to 4 finalists. (No surprise; but more disappointment.) But a few weeks after the contest was over, I noticed that the Kindle excerpt of my novel was being downloaded by more customers than were the finalists. That inspired me to publish the entire book to Kindle for the first time.

Sales were very slow for the first 6 months (about 5 to 20 per month), as Amazon removed the contest entries so I lost all the reader reviews that my excerpt had accumulated. Then, in mid-December, something clicked. By the end of the month, 300 copies had sold. And so far this month (January 2011), it's sold 5,500 copies. All with no promotion on my part (other than giving away some free copies in the Kindle forums after sales started picking up). It's also attracted 20 unsolicited reviews this month.

I followed your blog closely during the 2 years I was trying to sell my book traditionally, but stopped reading after giving up hope. So I had no idea that other unknown authors were finding this kind of success on Kindle. Never heard of Amanda Hocking or Karen McQuestion (greatest author name ever, by the way) until this month.

How to describe the thrill of finally getting *readers* after all these years? It's incredible. All along, I just wanted the chance to get my book past the gatekeepers and into readers' hands. I've gotten some great e-mails this month: one from an 87 year old Texan who said the characters reminded him of the folks he knew back then, another from a high-school English teacher who is recommending it to her students. It's like a commercial for the credit cards I foolishly used to finance my writing dreams before they were squashed: Priceless.

best,
Sam

Joe sez: I love this story, for several reasons. First, because it shows an epic fail by the gatekeepers. Penguin had two shots at this, and failed both times. Now the book is selling hundreds of copies a day. Oops.

Second, because Torode priced it at $2.99. The majority of self-pubbed ebooks that have made the Top 100 have been 99 cents. It's nice to see an indie ebook selling well AND making a lot of money for the author.

Third, because here is yet another example of an unknown author who sells a ton of ebooks without a platform, an agent, or any sort of marketing. It just caught on with readers who liked it. This is the ultimate in "word-of-mouth."

And fourth, I'm a sucker for a the fairy tale ending.

Sam followed the rules for successful ebook authors (which you should all know by heart by now.)

1. Write a good book.
2. Have a good cover.
3. Set a low price.
4. Have a good product description.

Here's his description:

Watch the video trailer at DirtyPartsoftheBible.com

The Dirty Parts of the Bible is a humorous novel set during the Great Depression---a rollicking tale of love and liquor, preachers and prostitutes, trains and treasure, sure to appeal to fans of Water for Elephants, O Brother Where Art Thou?, Mark Twain, and Johnny Cash....

Semifinalist for the 2010 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award

"While the title suggests a raunchy read, this rich and soulful novel is actually a rather well-done bildungsroman [coming-of-age story] steeped in wanderlust and whimsy that at times recalls The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and at others a tamer On the Road. The story begins in 1936 as 19-year-old Tobias is thumbing his way from Remus, Mich., to his uncle's farm in Glen Rose, Tex., to find a hidden bag of money, after his father, a Baptist pastor, drunkenly slams his car into the church and is removed from the parsonage. The author does an excellent job in making well-charted territory (riding the rails; scavenged campfire meals under the stars) seem vibrant and new. Snippets of scripture, Southern spirituals, and folk ballads lend context and flavor to the text. Most impressive are the jangly dialogue and the characters' distinctive voices, which are authentic and earthy but not remotely hoary. When Tobias finally arrives at his uncle's, the surprises that await him are more than enough to keep his--and readers'--interests piqued." --Publisher's Weekly (ABNA)

"I absolutely loved The Dirty Parts of the Bible.... [It's] a grown-up Mark Twain-type adventure with lots of spirit and humor." --Reader Views

"[It] has lots of laughs and a few tears, and characters that are pure joy." --Front Street Reviews

"A fun read" --The Nashville Scene

"Sweet and funny" --Kirkus Discoveries

From the Back Cover

It's 1936, and Tobias Henry is stuck in the frozen hinterlands of Michigan. Tobias is obsessed with two things: God and girls.

Mostly girls, of course.

But being a Baptist preacher's son, he can't escape God.

When his father is blinded in a bizarre accident (involving hard cider and bird droppings), Tobias must ride the rails to Texas to recover a long-hidden stash of money. Along the way, he's initiated into the hobo brotherhood by Craw, a ribald vagabond-philosopher. Obstacles arise in the form of a saucy prostitute, a flaming boxcar, and a man-eating catfish. But when he meets Sarah, a tough farm girl under a dark curse, he finds out that the greatest challenge of all is love.

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Torode did a lot right in this description. He compared it to well known books and movies, explained the type of book it is, listed some rave reviews, mentioned it was a semi-finalist, and went briefly into the plot, setting, and main character.

His cover is professional, his title is perfect, and his web page is well designed.

What he needs to do next is get more writing up on Amazon ASAP, to capitalize on his current popularity.

More guest posts coming. Thanks to Sam for allowing me to share his email with my readers.