The Grand Experiment ground rules

I mentioned ‘the Grand Experiment’ earlier this month (and I should probably stop using the quotation marks now I’ve established the name), so here are the ground rules:

At the end of this month, I’ll be self-publishing seven (7!) e-books directly onto Amazon (via their Digital Text Platform, an excellent tool for self-publishing authors) and Smashwords. The titles will be available on all the major e-readers: Kindle, Kobo, Apple, PDF, etc. – although Amazon’s Kindle is my focus.

These new titles, along with my existing novella Phoenix and the Darkness of Wolves, mean that I have a decent sample of eight titles with which to build my reputation and sales.  I have another few titles in the works, but Mum’s the word on those for now. I’m saving them for later …

At the end of every month, I will post sales figures on this blog/website.

The goals of the Grand Experiment are:

  • My primary goal (to determine whether the experiment is a success) is to sell 1,000 e-books in total (across all of these titles) by December 31, 2011
  • My secondary goal is to sell 1,000 copies of each title (i.e. 7,000 copies) by December 31, 2011.
  • I’m also hoping to demonstrate that word length is far less important when it comes to selling e-books. Novels are the dominant form in bookstores, but I propose that novellas are a better length for e-book readers and that short story collections, when marketed and published the right way, will sell just as well.

As for everything else, here’s a preliminary FAQ:

How much will your e-books cost?

The titles will range from $0.99 to $2.99 (US dollars). From my research, I believe the ‘sweet spot’ to optimise e-book sales is under $5 ($2.99 is my best guess), and by the way Amazon stack their royalties, they do, too.

And here’s the tip: if any of my titles priced below $2.99 sell 1,000 copies, I’ll raise the price by $1, to a maximum of $2.99. So if you’re interested, get in early and save!

Why eight titles and not one or two?

I’m firmly of the belief that one-off titles released on Smashwords and/or Amazon will sink into the sea of lost books, swamped (if I can mix my metaphors) by the millions of other titles – good and not so good – flooding the market. Having more books out there means casting a wider net, therefore, I’m hoping to get reader interest in my books sooner, and when I do, I’ll have other titles available with which to sate their reading hunger. In a world with a shortening attention span, authors with only one or two titles out there will struggle to gain a foothold in the market.

What kind of e-books will you release?

Over the next fortnight, in the leadup to the books’ mass release, I’ll be posting the cover art and synopses on this blog. My first seven e-books (eight if you count Phoenix) are novellas and short story collections (that’s right, plural – collections).

Will you be self-publishing print copies of these e-books?

No. This is purely an e-book experiment. Some of my e-books will already be available in print format (such as Shards, which was published as an illustrated collection by Brimstone Press in 2009), and I’ll point interested readers toward these existing print books. To be honest, I don’t expect to sell all that many e-books, but if I do, I’ll reassess the time and effort involved to create print versions. Until then, it’s e-book formats only.

Self-publishing, huh? Will your e-books reach the same production standards as e-books published by a traditional pubisher?

Yes! All of my e-books will have an ISBN.

As for the quality of the covers – remember, I’m the guy who did the graphic design for Black: Australian Dark Culture Magazine and Eye of Fire. I’ve typeset and created the covers for every one of Brimstone Press’ titles and received a Sydney Galley Club Award nomination for my book design skills.

I’m a generalist who values excellence. As a media savvy, award-winning author with extensive graphic design and typesetting experience, I’m the model citizen for the e-book self-publishing revolution! 🙂

Of course, it’s up to you and other readers as to whether you think the books are up to scratch. Personally, I hope you do!

Why Amazon and Smashwords?

Intriguingly, I’ve seen a lot of authors who have ventured into e-book self-publishing through only one platform or the other. I think a lot of authors used to the traditional publishing model are daunted by the work involved in formatting and marketing their books, and to a fair degree, it is hard work. Amazon can be hard to understand to the uninitiated, so some authors tend toward Smashwords as it seems simpler and offers a variety of formats (whereas Amazon specialises in the Kindle, surprise surprise). That’s a mistake.

Smashwords make e-books available in all the main formats, including Kindle, and many authors believe this is enough. However, from what I understand, Smashwords don’t yet have a distribution agreement with Amazon, so Smashwords Kindle books can only be purchased through Smashwords, which is a very limiting option. By publishing through Amazon, my books will be available through their vast network, and by publishing through Smashwords, I’ll have books distributed to major e-tailers like Barnes & Noble, Borders, and the Apple Store.

How will you promote your e-books?

This is where I need your help! While I’m going to try a modest advertising spend on ads with Facebook and Goodreads and I’ll do what I can on my own social networks, I’m hoping people interested in this experiment will spread the word – or even buy a book or two! Once the books go live, I’ll be posting updates here, on Facebook, and elsewhere. It’s going to be a journey, and I hope you’ll come along with me for the ride.

Wish me luck!



  1. Trost says:

    Impressive! Your grand experiment sounds well thought out. I’m certainly interested in seeing what happens, and I’m sure many other budding writers are too. I haven’t got into e-reading yet but I’m planning on buying an e-reader soon, maybe you can suggest a particular brand to me? Good luck, Shane!

  2. Shane Jiraiya Cummings says:

    Heya Trost,

    Thanks for the support! I’ll be sure to keep everyone posted on my progress.

    As for e-readers, I don’t think there’s much in it quality-wise (although I’d take a digital ink display like the Kindle or Kobo over the iPads backlit tablet display – otherwise you might as well read e-books on your PC). The decider for me is range, and the Kindle (as Amazon’s chosen reader) is the winner in this regard, although others are catching up.

    If you want to access e-books on your PC (a kind of ‘try before you buy’ thing), you can download the Kindle for PC for free (just Google ‘Kindle for PC’). It’s a program that allows you to buy e-books from Amazon and read them on your PC. It’s not the same reading experience, but it does get you into e-books for no upfront cost!

  3. Very exciting, Shane. I’ll certainly be stopping by to see the results of this. I’ve read a bunch of ebooks lately that have been but out by their authors, and I think the main challenge is that about 80% of them are terrible. Authors who are NOT terrible, such as yourself, have to find a way to cut through the signal noise, and I think you’re on to something with a multi-platform, multiple title approach.

    I wish you much luck, and (selfishly) hope this approach works well for you, so that if and when other skilled authors follow your example, they can pave the way for me when I have enough of a “back catalogue” to make the approach worthwhile. 🙂

    As far as e-readers go, I’ve got a Sony Reader and an iPad, and I MUCH prefer the iPad. Digital ink (IMO) sucks in bright light, can’t be read in the dark, and (when a light is used in an otherwise dark room, for example a lamp on a nightstand) you are forever adjusting the angle, searching for a sweet spot that minimizes glare. The iPad doesn’t have these issues, and iBooks, the Kindle app, GoodReader etc. all have settings that you can adjust, like making the screen black and the words white (or charcoal, if contrast is not your thing). Anyway, those are my (unsolicited) thoughts on the matter. 🙂

    Again, I wish you every success!

  4. Shane Jiraiya Cummings says:

    Hi Christopher,

    You hit the nail on the hit. Self publishing is still very much a minefield, and there’s a lot of dross out there, so I’m hoping by documenting my particular journey, I can blaze some trails for talented guys like yourself.

    Thanks for the tips on the readers, too! I didn’t take into account the light glare that might affect the non-backlit readers.

  5. Mark Coker says:

    Hi Shane, and welcome to Smashwords! Back in October 2010, I posted an online presentation called the Seven Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success at It summarizes my observations of the smartest ebook publishing practices of the best-selling authors at Smashwords. You might find some good ideas there. Also check out my free Smashwords Book Marketing Guide at Good luck with your experiment!

    Mark Coker

  6. Greg Chapman says:

    I admire your confidence Shane. As you and I both know e-books, while in their infancy, are increasing in popularity. The fact you have eight works to sell is very advantageous for you. With the right promotion I reckon you’ll pull this off!

    Please keep us updated on your “grand experiment”.

  7. Shane Jiraiya Cummings says:

    Heya Greg,

    Thanks for the vote of confidence! It should be a fun ride!

  8. Shane Jiraiya Cummings says:

    Hi Mark,

    Thanks for popping in. You’ve created a real marvel with Smashwords – thanks for creating a platform that will enable guys like me to forge ahead in the e-marketplace!

    Thanks for those tips, too! I’ve been clutching (virtually, at least) your marketing guide as my Bible for the past two months, stewing on ways I can approach the world of self publishing.

    I hope you enjoyed your time in Australia.

  9. I just tweeted about whether or not there were any Aussies going the self publish route promoted by folks like JA Konrath and I stumble across your site on a totally unrelated errand.

    I have subscribed and eagerly await the outcome of your experiment.

    I have read some of Konrath’s self published stuff and found him to be quite polished (no doubt due to his previous years spent learning the craft), I have also download some works of authors he has advertised on his site who are outselling him (sadly some of these just have not been as refined). I wish you the best of luck and hope that you can somehow distinguish yourself fro the ocean of less than optimal content.

    • Shane Jiraiya Cummings says:

      Hi Sean,

      Thanks very much for your support (and for downloading The Smoke Dragon).

      I think we Aussies are somewhat behind the rest of the world when it comes to e-books. We’re at least 12 months behind the e-book bestsellers like Joe Konrath. I have some catching up to do! I reckon if my fellow authors don’t act quickly (if they’re in a position to do so) then they might struggle in the publishing industry shakeup.

      Thanks for taking an interest. It should be a fascinating experience!

  10. […] Just an addendum to my Grand Experiment ground rules. […]

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