How to Sell Advanced Reader Copies as a Self-Published Author

| Posted in E-publishing, Tips and Tricks |


As my three regular readers know, I released the fifth book in my Emperor’s Edge series last week. A couple of weeks before that, I offered an eARC (electronic advanced reader copy) for sale on my site. This was the first time I’d done that, and, overall, it went well with nearly 250 people paying $10 for the file and a promise of the finished ebook when it was ready to go.

I’d originally come up with the idea of selling the ARC because I’d given away some free copies to folks who’d contributed to my Kickstarter campaign last spring. This created some strife in the fan forum between those who had been around for the KS event and those who hadn’t. I figured I’d better make copies available to everyone who wanted them, lest I start a civil war over there.

In addition, I’d posted a short story on my site the month before, and several people had expressed interest in having a copy for their e-readers. This meant paying for cover art, editing, and formatting, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to spend money on that when I wanted to keep the story free. But, I thought, if I could sell some early copies of EE5, maybe I could come up with a couple hundred dollars to pay for turning the short story into an ebook.

As you can guess from my numbers, I made enough for that and covered the full editing, cover art, and formatting costs for EE5 as well. This was the first time I’d ever recouped the ebook-creation expenses before the book was released (when going through Amazon and other online retailers, you get paid 60+ days after books sell).

I thought some people would find it useful to read about how I went about selling the ARC on my site and where I screwed up what I would do differently if I did this again.

Step 1: Determine Whether People Would Actually Buy an ARC if You Made It Available

It probably goes without saying, but this is going to be for authors who already have an established fan base. If you’re releasing your first book, you’ll have trouble getting more than Mom and Memaw to pay for advanced copies.

Let’s say you’ve been publishing for a while now and you have some loyal readers following your work. You figure that if they knew about it, many of them would be interested in an early copy of the new project. The second thing to ask yourself is whether you have a mailing list or at least the email addresses of these fans so that you can drop a note directly into their inboxes, announcing the availability of the ARC.

It is unlikely that you’ll have good results if the only way you have of contacting people is through Twitter, Facebook, and/or your blog. From my own experience, I know I have some regular folks who stay in touch on Facebook, Twitter, etc., and many of them bought copies of the ARC, but there were far more people whose names I didn’t recognize from everyday interactions. They’re folks who were on my list and decided to check out the ARC after I sent an announcement (the majority of the purchases came within 12 hours after that).

Step 2: Determine the Format of Your eARC and How “Proofed” It Will Be

For my “eARC,” I offered a copy of the same Word .doc I’d just sent off to my editor. If I were to do this again, I’d have someone format it so people could get it in .mobi or .epub versions, which would have made things a little easier for readers. I also imagine I might have gotten more sales that way. But, since formatting is something I pay someone to do, I didn’t consider it for this. I had this idea around 9:30 am Wednesday morning and had the blog post and Paypal button on my site about an hour later. (I was heading out of town that Saturday, and my editor already had the manuscript on her desk, so figured I had a pretty small window to make this happen if I wanted to do it.)

Something you’ll want to consider is if you want to sell an unproofed copy the way I did or wait until you have a polished version back from your editor. There’s a time when I would have been mortified at the idea of letting someone read anything less than perfect, but, despite beta readers and editors, I’ve yet to publish a manuscript without some typos in it. You’ve probably found five already in this blog post. So, anyway, I’m over the delusion that I could put out something perfect. At least 250 people now know that I can never remember whether to use lie or lay, who or whom, and that I have a knack for odd typos that result in terms like, “the breast’s maw.” Ah, well.

If you do want to wait until you have a polished version, this may involve delaying the release date of the regular ebook. The appeal of ARCs for readers is, of course, that they’re getting the story before it’s available in stores. In the traditional publishing industry, where everything takes longer, a reader might be able to purchase an eARC four or five months before the actual book comes out (I did that with Lois McMaster Bujold’s latest this summer, dropping $15 to download the ARC from the Baen website). With self-publishing, we can publish the ebooks as soon as they’re edited and formatted, but there might not be many people willing to pay to get an ARC a mere day or two before it’s be available at Amazon.

I will say, though, that I did have quite a few people say they paid for the ARC because they knew the money would go to me directly, rather than to Amazon or someone else who would take a bigger cut than Paypal. It’s definitely nice to have people that care enough to think about such things!

Step 3: Determine Cost

I sell my ebooks for $4.95, so the obvious price point for an eARC would have been something similar, but I didn’t think it’d be worth my time to set everything up, email people (I mistakenly, didn’t think of automation this first time around — more on that farther down), and deal with the inevitable “customer service” emails I’d get for $5. I decided that I’d go with $10 and include the eARC (Word doc), final ebook (mobi and epub files), and an ebook version of that short story as well.

At the $10 price point, I made $9.41 after Paypal took its cut ($9.31 on foreign sales). Compare this to the $3.30 or so I would have made if these folks had purchased the ebook through Amazon or B&N later on. Since the Word file didn’t cost me anything extra to produce, I earned about $6 more per buyer in the end. If I’d only charged $5, it would have been a dollar more from each person which, as I said, wouldn’t have been worth the extra work. In the end, even with 250 buyers, this wasn’t a huge pile of money, but I’m very happy that it allowed me to cover the entire ebook-creation costs of EE5 and the short story up front.

Step 4: Figure Out How to Handle Sales

I’ll tell you first what I did and then what I’d do differently if I did it again.

I wrote up a blog post, announcing the availability of the eARC and letting folks know what they’d get and how long the offer was available (it’s always a good idea to put a time limit on these sorts of things, so people, if they’re interested, are less likely to put off buying until “later” and then forget). Then I headed to my Paypal account and clicked the “Merchant Services” tab. I selected the “create payment buttons for your website” link and filled out a three-part form. They gave me the code, and I stuck it at the end of the blog post. Overall, it took less than 10 minutes to go from, “I wonder how I go about doing this” to having the Paypal button in the post.

Paypal has an option where you can send folks to a specific URL after making a purchase, and, because I wasn’t thinking, I had it send people back to my blog’s home page. After I’d sent 50 or 100 emails of the file by hand, it occurred to me that it wouldn’t have taken that long to have made a hidden page on my site with the links to the files, so people could download them from that page as soon as they paid. Instead, people had to wait until I checked my email and sent the file. I checked my mail a lot that first couple of days, but, to my surprise, orders kept trickling in over the next week. I was literally sitting at the U.S. Open in New York, watching tennis with a friend and answering emails on my iPhone, telling people where to grab the files.

Did I mention that it’s not a good idea to try something like this when you’re heading out of town in a few days? Yeah.

So, as I said, if I did this again I’d automate things. I’m sure there still would have been emails with questions, but the whole process would have been a lot less work for me overall.

Step 5: Gird Your Loins for Customer Service Emails

Actually, everyone was very nice and pleasant to deal with in emails, but I had a lot of people sign up for this who didn’t know how to sideload a file onto their kindle, ipad, etc. I spent quite a bit of time, trying to talk them through finding their kindle’s email address for forwarding the file, or getting a Word doc onto their iPad, or using the USB cable to transfer the file, etc.

In the end, nobody got too cranky, but I felt bad that people experienced delays and frustrations.Β  And, as I said, this created more work for me than I’d expected. I used to think I’d eventually add an e-store to my website, so people could buy ebooks directly (thus reducing the cut I share with Amazon/B&N/etc.), but I’m not sure about that after this. It’d be no trouble for people who buy from Smashwords and know how to transfer files to their e-readers, but for the people who are used to instant, automatic, wireless delivery, I think it might be a headache all around!

All right, that post went on a tad long. I hope something was helpful. If you have any questions about this process, please let me know. Or just comment to let me know you actually read most of the post. My ego likes to hear that. πŸ˜‰

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Comments (37)

I read till the end! Of course, I’m avoiding work, but still.

Also, you could add a link to the automated response from Paypal about “If you’ve never manually added a file to your Kindle/iPad/etc, here’s a good site that tells you how”, thus reducing maybe a few of the subsequent customer service emails – particularly if you do decide to add an e-store to your site.

Granted, many folks will stop reading after the link to the book, but it could help.

Thanks for reading and commenting, Patricia! Heh, I sent several tutorials only to have people email back and say they didn’t help. πŸ˜›

I absorbed the ew information with gladniss. I would love to hear more about the ARc process pertaining to marketing. I reached out to my publisher about my first work titled “Fides Qua Creditur” which is now available for sale. It is on demand printing so, I inquired about labeling it an Arc due to some errors of a virgin copy. it is not being marketed as such at this moment.

What do you think, Lindsay about this strategy?

One note about the kindle emails –
If you give instructions for how people can *find* their kindle addresses, I’m sure there’s a form that would allow them to enter that email address and have their copy sent automatically. Maybe as a temporary bounceback/vacation response?

I know nothing about nooks or iPads, though. πŸ™

Something I found out through this experience is that you have to go into your Amazon Kindle settings and manually add email addresses that are allowed to send files to your kindle. In other words, I tried, but there’s no way I could send the files directly to people’s kindles unless they knew my email ahead of time and went in and filled out that information. πŸ˜› Thanks for the suggestion though!

o_O Way to go, Amazon! Way to make it easy.

Well, unless I misunderstand something, Amazon charges fees for those transfers so I’d think it’s a security measure to prevent someone who got hold of your Kindle email to bombard you with files and fees.

Or you could copy the sideloading instructions, clean them up if needed, and turn them into a blog post you can link to. πŸ˜‰

read til the end. maybe just have people send you their kindle address as part of the ordering process as with baen then the arc just appears on your kindle, yes people have know their kindle address but that not that hard to find , even for a luddite like myself. I love arcs by the way

Thanks for reading and commenting, Sue. πŸ˜‰ Unfortunately, random people can’t email your kindle. You have to actually go in and approve addresses beforehand.

Just wanted to note that I thought this was a fantastic idea — I hope you do it with every book. I loved getting to read EE5 sooner than expected and like other readers was happy to be able to pay more and directly. I bought the book again on amazon when it came out, so wasn’t worried about the admittedly slightly tricky process of getting it on the kindle.

Only thing you did not mention which I thought was of interest is whether this would be off-putting to fans who couldn’t really afford the extra $5. It struck me as a little unfair that people with money could get advance access (even though $10 isn’t much and I would have paid $20). I guess no one wrote emails complaining about the injustice, so it’s probably a non-issue.

p.s. The typos were far less than I anticipated in a unproofed edition.

I don’t see the issue. Paying more for early access has been normal for books for a long time. Hardcover books do not cost more than twice as much as paperbacks to produce; most of that price difference is more money for publisher and author to recoup the initial investment.

And it’s not like with an eARC we’re looking at a year of waiting, like I see with Terry Pratchett’s new ebooks, or several, like I’ve seen with the original German of Inkheart, which sold so well that the publisher put off issuing a paperback version for seven years.

Since I’d just paid $15 for an ebook-ARC from another author and most new ebooks from traditional publishers seem to run in the $10-$15 range, I didn’t think $10 was too pricy, but, sure, it’s going to mainly be for people who can afford — and are willing — to pay twice as much as the usual $5 price.

I bought an eARC and loved reading EE5 early. Since you included the ebook version of the short story as well, I was more than happy to pay extra. If you already had it formatted as .mobi or .epub and automated people getting to the links I’m sure it would cut down on your customer service emails. I really hope you do this again.

Thanks, Pepper! Yes, I’ll definitely have it formatted for e-readers next time around. πŸ™‚

Thanks for this post – it was very helpful. I have been wondering how I would manage selling eARCs for my upcoming novel and this answered many questions. It has also made me wonder if it is worth all the work! But at least I know that this is an option. As usual, your blog post has been a great help!

It would have been a lot less work if I’d automated things. I’ll know for next time! πŸ™‚

Commenting so that you know that I read the whole thing, all the way through to the end, and enjoyed it. It sounds like a lot of work, but I’m glad it worked out for you.

Thanks for reading and commenting, Sarah! πŸ™‚

I’ve been doing this since 2010, making eARCs available as part of presale packages: buy the book early at a higher cost and get, among other things in a package, the manuscript the day it’s ready–usually less than 24 hours after my editor and I deem it finished. This also gives me a volunteer distributed proofreading squad. πŸ™‚

At first I did it in private presales on my site; now I use Kickstarter, where it’s been ridiculously successful.

I’ve definitely found your KickStarter success inspiring, MeiLin! I’m so glad it’s working out for you. πŸ™‚

Thanks for this account, it’s given me an idea to discuss with my co-author. We sold limited edition (signed and numbered) paperbacks for our first book, but hadn’t considered the ARC idea at all.

I’m glad to hear it worked so well for you. I love hearing about authors coming up with innovative ways to engage with their readers!

Thanks for reading, Joanna! What outfit did you go through for the limited edition paperbacks? CreateSpace? I want to look into doing something like that with hardbacks.

Of course I read to the end. Even though I don’t have an e-reader and don’t buy e-books. Even though I’ve never published anything and my WIP is still IP.

I read it because you, Lindsay, are one smart cookie, and if I ever get anywhere in life, it’ll be because I try to pay attention when the smart folks around me are offering free advice.

You are going to finish Godfire and be ready to give this all a try soon, I’m sure of it! πŸ™‚ You know, with ebooks, you could serialize that puppy and sell it as 4-6 books!

Excellent post, as usual. I received my eARC and accessed it very easily through my Kindle Fire. Oh, just so you’ll know Lindsay, I’m your forth regular reader… πŸ˜‰

*has all of this pre-release marketing to do* *bashes head against wall*

Interesting idea. I’m really tempted to just give all of our eARCs out to anyone who wants one. Maybe I could contact past readers/fans and offer them one specifically, too…..

I like how it was a threat of forum war that gave you the idea. So does that make it “war is the mother of invention”? *entertained*

Wanted you to know I read through to the end! I always love your posts like this because if it is something I want to try you give such good directions that I feel like I really have a road map to start off on. (I used your post and guest posts on formatting to figure out how to convert my files for publishing. Thanks!)

I have wondered if selling directly from author sites will get more popular for authors with a fan base.

One thing that struck me with both this and your kick-starter campaign – you always try to treat your readers well. πŸ™‚ Glad it is paying off for you.

I love how open you are about your experiences, Lindsay, thank you for sharing them. I too have assumed that self-published authors will eventually move to having their own e-stores. Sounds like there’s a little more work to it than a PayPal button. I suppose the question becomes: what do we need to do to iron out these quirks?

[…] How to Sell Advanced Reader Copes as a Self-Published Author by Lindsay Buroker at Lindsay Buroker […]

Oh, wow, I forgot about ‘breast’s maw’. I really laughed when I read that the first time! πŸ˜›

Thanks for sharing your experience. I’m always interested to see what new things you’re trying…

Have you thought about using Gumroad? That would automate the file delivery for each payment. (They don’t have the same brand recognition as Paypal though.)

Excellent post! So informative. Bookmarking!

I’ll probably end up doing this, when I’m further into my series, though I’ll probably use e-junkie. πŸ™‚

Thanks for sharing the information on how you did this!

What if you wrote a detailed FAQ based on the types of questions you were getting, and just posted it along with the downloads? It would be somewhat time intensive but would hopefully eliminate most of the “help” emails and even the ones you do get could mostly be redirected back, “I have detailed instructions on that HERE.” type of thing.

[…] Many readers will also love following along on your writing and publishing journey. For example, you can do a book cover reveal or sell advanced reader copies. […]

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