22,000 eBook Download Disaster
A failure as catastrophic to the author as the Chernobyl meltdown she wrote about
Mary Mycio self-published Doing Bizness: A Nuclear Thriller in June 2013. She has the background for it. A journalist and the daughter of Ukrainian immigrants, Mycio wrote a non-fiction book, Wormwood Forest: A Natural History of Chernobyl. Mycio visited Chernobyl; she speaks the language, she investigated, she met and talked with those in the know. The book was published in 2005. Wormwood Forest reads as solid and as interesting as her fiction. Not a dry word in the tome.
Mycio is a talented writer. A first time indie author and savvy journalist, she thought she did everything right. She studied the indie market, she promoted on Facebook, she submitted her book for review. Like many new indie authors she took note of criticisms, made revisions, tightened the manuscript and uploaded the new file. She bought advertising on one of the top ranking ebook selling sites on the Web, scheduling the book for free downloads to BookBub subscribers. Free reads are how indie authors advertise. Free books get talked about, reviewed, and move up on Amazon lists such as Top 100 free reads, and placements such as Number One best seller in its respective genres i.e. Romance, Mystery, Thriller. . . Once a single day advertising campaign is complete, the author removes the book from the free list and returns it to full price.
Within a few hours of BookBub reaching out to its subscribers, thriller fans downloaded 22,000 free copies of Doing Bizness: A Nuclear Thriller. The book shot up to the #2 spot in Thrillers and #5 in Free books. It also earned the #1 spot in three subcategories: Political Thrillers, Terrorism Thrillers and International Mystery. After it went to paid at $0.99, the book moved out of the subcategory to #10 in International Mystery, #19 in Political Thrillers and #38 in Terrorism Thrillers. Folks–that is one heck of a successful advertising campaign. Yes, it is. And after the novel returned to the PAID STORE, paid sales mounted. More success. Mycio had done everything right, perfectly positioning Doing Bizness to reach the #1 Best Seller list and stardom.
Next, a strange thing happened. Negative reviews starting pouring in. One star, two star, on a book that had earlier earned four and five star reviews. Says Mycio: “The first review seemed like a troll. The second wasn’t very specific. But the third and fourth review sported headline titles: UNREADABLE and DO NOT BUY: DEFECTIVE. I thought it was a troll assault. The book could NOT be defective.”
WRONG. All 22,000 copies of the novel suffered from a catastrophic formatting failure. Mycio discovered: [Among other things] “Sentences were cut off on the right margin. It was unreadable, a disaster. Worse, the book became unreadable at the point in which readers were thoroughly hooked and wanted to keep reading to the dénouement. Readers were so angry!” Not only were readers angry, they stopped buying and downloading the book, even at 99 cents. Once the 1-star headliner reviews were published on Amazon, the book lost its momentum. It sank like a stone in its subcategories. The following day the book slid entirely off the front pages of the subcategories.
When planes crash the FAA sends in teams of investigators. They want to know: Did the plane suffer mechanical failure or pilot error? We hate to learn planes crash because of pilot error or human frailty.
Mary Mycio did not want to believe the disaster was author error. It was.
What Mycio learned: When she uploaded revisions to Amazon she did not reformat. Moreover, she skipped a step in the process. She did NOT preview the book before hitting that Green publish button.
Every single site on which an indie author publishes has a preview process. Every line, every page in the book can be viewed to check for misspelled words, dropped quotation marks, blank pages and skewed formatting. Previewing is time consuming. The author has a choice. Take several hours to preview or not. The Green publish button that makes the book go live is only a mouse-click away. Prudent writers preview. Mycio was in a hurry to get the book ready for the advertising campaign. She assumed once the book was formatted she could insert and delete entire passages and the formatting would remain pristine. But formatting is not the same as editing in Microsoft Word. It is an assumption many indie authors make. It sounds reasonable, but that doesn’t make it so.
After a few more panicky missteps Mycio finally managed a pristine format and uploaded the corrected file. Meanwhile she was talking to Amazon. Amazon often takes up to a month to notify Kindle owners that revised books are available for downloading. Fortunately, Amazon decided this fiasco was so egregious readers need to be alerted. Amazon sent e-mails to every buyer of Doing Bizness: A Nuclear Thriller informing them [that] a corrected book was available for downloading. Still, it took Amazon a week to step in. And during that week annoyed readers continued to write unflattering reviews. Moreover Amazon surfers had noted Doing Bizness, now priced at 99 cents was in the #2 slot in thrillers. Kindle owners downloaded several thousands more of corrupted copies before the author could get the file corrected.
So, what are some of the lessons learned? Mary Mycio stresses these four points:
1. Never publish your book unless you have read EACH PAGE in the online previewer.
2. If you get more than one review mentioning a formatting problem, it’s your fault. Find it, fix it and preview it again.
3. Apologize to the negative reviewers if they have a legitimate gripe. Be polite and offer to fix their complaint.
4. Alert Amazon. If it is a “serious” revision, Amazon may inform buyers about an update via Amazon Manage Your Kindle or by email.
Has Mary Mycio salvaged her book and reputation as an indie author? Perhaps. She managed to turn one negative review into a five star by apologizing to the reader and gifting him with a repaired file. But she is not yet off the reader’s hook. Here’s why: It may be days, weeks or even months before every copy of that 22,000 download is opened and discovered defective, generating more negative reviews. Readers often ignore an Amazon alert. Some won’t discover a revision until signed into Manage My Kindle. Many readers won’t bother downloading the revision. As one reader said: There are too many books out there to fool around with one that’s messed up. Just delete it.
What is happening in the life of the book today? Mycio: “I did another emergency free day last week and that helped get the book back to the top of its subcategories. Since I posted the tale of woe on the KDP forums and Goodreads Author forums, a few sympathy sales have put it back on the paid charts. From it’s Paid slot at 5,732 at the peak of sales momentum, it has dropped to #49,916 in Paid (a loss of 44,85 positions). It’s holding steady at #66 in Political Thrillers and #93 in International.”
Those slots place the book in the Top 100 in those two categories. It’s still nicely positioned. Yet, the book still has a few formatting snags, though very few that would draw the reader out of the story. With the corrupted formatting repaired, the book will now have to stand on story structure and content. Thriller readers are giving Mycio high marks for detail–especially those readers familiar with Cold War politics. Still, Mycio is convinced the book could use another round of soft edits. And she admits to two other missteps indie authors are prone to make: she did not hire a Beta reader or a professional service to format the novel. A mistake she vows not to make in the future.
The hard lesson for all of us indie authors is: Get it right the first time or get deleted. The selection of free and cheap books in the digital universe is vast. Right this minute http://www.kebooks.com has 90 free Kindle books and 48 titles for 99 cents. Kebooks publishes different free titles every single day. That’s 32,850 free downloads a year. There are dozens of similar sites—adding up to almost a million free downloads per year. Since we ask the reading audience to not only buy our books, but take time to review them, it behooves us to remember that old adage–the one you mother always told you. Put your best foot forward because you never get a second chance to make a good first impression.
Doing Bizness: A Nuclear Thriller 99 Cents