In The Wall Street Journal (Friday, December 8, 2011) I read an article about Darcie Chan, a full-time lawyer who drafts environmental legislation during the day and at night, after she has put her toddler son to bed, writes novels. Finishing her first novel, and after dozens of publishers and more than 100 literary agents rejected, she had a decision to make: quit writing or get published someway.

Not giving up, and reading about e-book publishing, she decided to publish the book herself and went ahead and bought some ads on Web sites that target e-book readers, paid for a few reviews, and priced the book at .99 cents. She has (so far) sold more than 400,000 copies.

What gives?

According to the Association of American Publishers digital self-publishing has serious drawbacks. While e-books are the fastest-growing segment of the book market, they still make up less than 10% of overall trade book sales.

Few newspaper or magazine reviews them. No book store will handle them. And all e-book authors have to market themselves, spend their own money to promote their own book.

Nevertheless, a few writers have moved from e-books to publishing houses. John Locke, who has sold more than 1.7 million digital copies, just signed with Simon & Schuster. J.A. Konrath, a mystery writer, has sold 400,000 digital copies of his self-published books, and earns about $500,000 a year from writing. He just signed with Amazon and they will do a hardback of his new novel, Stirred.

Now Darcie Chan, who had worked for the federal government on the natural-resource team for the Senate’s Office of the Legislative Counsel, started writing in 2002. Her first novel is about a wealthy, agoraphobic Vermont widow who makes anonymous gifts to the townspeople who ignore and fear her.

After failing to sell it, she uploaded it to Amazon Kindle, on their self-publishing program.

She fashioned a cover image out of an old photograph her sister took of a mansion in their small home town in Indiana. She used Photoshop to add some gloomy ambiance to it. Besides Amazon, she started selling it on Barnes & Noble’s Nook and through SmashWords, a self-publishing program that distributes to major-e-book retailers including Apple’s iBookstore, Sony and Kobo. Her first royalty check from Amazon was for $39.

To enhance sales, she dropped her price from $2.99 to .99 cents when she realized that  that popular e-books sold for that among. Sales picked up. Her book got mentioned on a site called Ereader News Today, which posts tips for Kindle readers. She spent $1,000 on marketing, buying banner ads on websites and blogs devoted to Kindle readers and a promotional spot on goodreads.com, a book-recommendation site with more than six million members.

She paid $35 for a review from IndiaReader.com. She paid $575 for an expedited review from Kirkus Reviews.

Sales continued to climb. Six film studios have inquired about movie rights. Two foreign publishers bid on the book. So far, she has made about $130,000.

She is working on another novel.

And she is hoping, she says, that a publisher will finally buy the book, edit it and sell it in brick-and-mortar stores.

Lets hope-for her sake–that they hurry while there still are brick-and-mortar stores!

What does this tell us? How can RPCV writers use this information?

Here’s how:

  • You need to price it right.
  • You need to market it.

Publishing an e-book is like any other business. It takes a lot of work and investment after the writing is done. So turn on your computer and get to work!