A couple of weeks ago, we talked about how self-publishing your first book is kind of like making your first pancake–it may turn out just fine, or it may be a scorched, runny mess, depending on how good a job you do of making the batter, setting up the griddle, etc.
I managed to get The Demon Always Wins set up for pre-order on Amazon on July 31. As of last night, I had 63 pre-orders. That may not seem like much, but according to Kameron Hurley, the average self-published book sells only 250 copies in its lifetime. And while the average traditionally-published book sells 3000 copies over the course of its publication life, 250-300 is the usual first year total.
So, with twelve days remaining till my book actually becomes available, I’ve already hit 25% of average lifetime sales for self-pubs and of first-year sales for traditional books.
Some of this was due to the friends I’ve made in the romance writing community over the past few years, including my Romance Writing class at McDaniel College, my RWA® Golden Heart® classes and the wonderful folks over at Argh Ink, where Jenny Crusie so generously provided me with a bump and the Argh nation, with equal generosity, turned out in support.
Okay, enough hoopla. Back to the tricky stuff.
Despite the above celebration, setting up my book on Amazon for pre-orders is definitely an area of questionable pancake for me. Although other platforms roll up your pre-orders and include them in your first day’s sales, Amazon does not. When you set a book up for pre-order, Amazon’s calculation looks more like:
Debut Day Sales + 1/2 (Debut Day – 1) Sales + 1/4 (Debut Day – 2) Sales + 1/8 (Debut Day – 3) Sales, etc. (I think this goes out 30 days).
Which means that the 60 or 70 books I sell before my Debut Day won’t help my Amazon sales rank to any appreciable degree.
Despite this, I’m still okay with my decision. Setting the book up for pre-order allowed me to work through a series of decisions, missed deadlines and outright errors before I was able to make the ebook available for pre-order. And, since I have a publicity team setting up blog tours and ads based on a September 1 release date, releasing late would have created a bigger issue.
The other value of pre-orders is they will allow me to measure the effectiveness of of my publicity team, because I’ll be able to compare how many books their publicity sold compared to my own efforts.
Would anyone out there care to throw out some words of warning about other potential pitfalls?
1. Complete my revision of The Demon’s in the Details and send it off to my copy editor on August 1, as scheduled.
Done. Exactly on schedule, as it happens.
Get The Demon Always Wins loaded into Amazon for pre-orders before I head for the RWA® National conference, so that I can invite people to pre-order.
Good news: The ebook is available on Amazon for pre-order. I ran into some issues in work I’d contracted out, though, so it didn’t happen until July 31st.
More good news: As of this writing, I’ve sold 51 books! Woo-hoo!
Get through the RWA® National Conference.
The basket of apples and bookmarks pictured at the top of this blog is a recreation of the one I set up in the Goody Room at the conference. I gave away maybe fifty bookmarks and about three dozen apples over the course of four days.
The honor of taking home the necklace (aka “winning the Golden Heart”) went to Kay Hudson for Jinn on the Rocks. On the plus side, I did meet a couple of agents at the GH reception and they requested submissions of my contemporary romance, Girl’s Best Friend, when it’s ready. So now I’m trying to figure out how to make that happen without losing momentum on my paranormal series.
I’ve been working diligently to grow the following for my Facebook author page and to acquire more Twitter followers. Both of which I’ve made progress on–452 FB page likes and 536 Twitter followers. Neither of which is anywhere near what I need for effective marketing, but it’s an improvement.
I’ve also been working with Barclay on identifying the optimal item to reward newsletter signups. More on that in a separate post.
Goals for August:
Get the paperback version of The Demon Always Wins loaded into Amazon.
Complete 80 pages in book 3, The Demon Wore Stilettos.
Document all the stuff I’ve figured out working on getting The Demon Always Wins published so I don’t have to relearn it in December when I load The Demon’s in the Details.
Revise Girl’s Best Friend and turn it over to a critique partner.
DON’T volunteer to judge any more contests or take on any more tasks at my local chapter.
If you’re interested in pre-ordering The Demon Always Wins, you can do that here.
If you’d like to read some of the book before you decide, you can find the first three chapters here.
There’s a wonderful indie comedy from 2003 called Pieces of Aprilabout a young woman who invites her suburban family to her walk-up apartment in the Bronx for Thanksgiving dinner, only to have her oven go out Thanksgiving morning. I saw it years ago, but there is one line that stuck with me.
Asked by some friends about her relationship with her parents, April says, “I’m the first pancake.”
The film goes on to explain that the first pancake is the one you throw away so the others will turn out okay.
The Demon Always Wins is starting to feel like the first pancake.
I thought learning to write a book was hard–and it was, it’s taken me 15 years of dedicated effort to get to this point–but I’m starting to think marketing may be even harder.
On Sunday, I uploaded it to Amazon and set it up for pre-order. That involved making a some decisions, both about the book and about my business path.
Where should I put the money (!) Amazon pays me?
Based on conversations I’ve read on Marie Force’s Author Support Network Facebook page, I know that Amazon sometimes recalculates their payments and takes money back out. I’ve been married to Old Dog long enough to know he’d have a howling fit if he saw that going on in our shared account, so I decided it’s better to send it to an account where I’m the sole owner.
I actually have two accounts like that. One is at the credit union where I used to work. Now that I don’t have a paycheck feeding into it, it’s no longer very convenient, so I’ve been planning to shut it down, but I haven’t quite gotten there yet.
The other account is at the bank where Old Dog and I have our shared account.
The next decision was whether to use the bank account that I use to pay my credit card off every month, or to use the credit union account. The plus for the credit union is it would make it easy to isolate transactions for my tax guy in January. The negative is that it’s still inconvenient. Also, I don’t know the institution routing number.
Bank account it is.
What 2 categories should I choose?
I went with Fiction/Romance/Paranormal and Fiction/Romance/Romantic Comedy
What 7 keywords should I use? I selected:
Tortured hero (snicker)
The good news is, I can change those as often as I like. And there are tools available to help me fine-tune them once I have some data.
Do I want to enable Digital Rights Management, aka DRM?
DRM determines whether Amazon will allow a buyer to share my ebook with another person. This is one where you have to make a one-time, up-front decision and live with the consequences.
On the surface, it sounds like a bad idea–whoever buys the book will be free to give it away at will.
On the other hand, returning to our first pancake metaphor, anybody you can get to eat this slightly-burnt, slightly-raw sucker is one more reader who may buy a future book for actual cash.
Note: The Demon Always Wins does not feel like a first pancake to me. It feels like a beautiful, brilliant, funny, touching, heart-warming, feel-good story that someone would have to be crazy not to love. That said, back in 2015, one of my Golden Heart judges gave it a two. The reality is, every book is not for every reader.
I think I’m going to bypass DRM on this one. (Ouch.)
Okay, more stories of the trials and travails of the self-publisher next week.
I intended to make today’s post a review of the 2018 RWA Conference in Denver that I attended last week. I have plenty to talk about–my first ever shot at giving away swag to promote a book, the great workshops I attended, my second experience as a Golden Heart finalist (though not, I’m sorry to say, as a winner this time).
But then I got to thinking about Jonah and the Whale, so we’re going to talk about that instead.
For those of you who weren’t frog-marched to Baptist Sunday school as impressionable children, God called on Jonah, a well-known prophet, to go to Nineveh and tell the Ninevites that they were screwing up, and to knock it off or he’d smite them.
Jonah didn’t think the Ninevites would be open to hearing this corrective feedback, so he hopped on a ship to Tarshish and high-tailed it in the opposite direction.
Even if you’re a godless heathen who never went to Baptist Sunday School, you know what happened next: big storm, big fish, three days in the belly of a whale for Jonah to consider the error of his ways.
I must admit I’ve never seen any practical application of this story for my own life until recently when, in a casual conversation, my preacher said, “Whenever God calls us to Nineveh, a ship to Tarshish shows up.”
Which got me to thinking about the things in life that pull us off course and cause us to lose a lot of time heading in the wrong direction.
For some time now, my publication plan has been to self-publish a series of dark comedies about Biblical demons who come to Earth on missions to screw up people’s lives. (I’m not sure why this particular story entertains me so much, but I hope it proves entertaining to some readers, too. We’ll find out come September.)
I had another plan, at the back of my mind, to write a series of contemporary small-town romances set in the mythical town of Russet Springs, Ohio. My thought was to consider going traditional for these, mostly because I didn’t want to keep dipping into my family’s bank account to pay the up-front costs for self-publishing yet another set of books when I’ve yet to see the first penny in revenue. At this point, writing is more like an expensive hobby than a money-making venture.
And then a ship sailed into port….
When I was at the conference last week, I received requests from three different agents to submit Girl’s Best Friend, the first book in that Russet Springs series that I’ve been futzing with for the last couple of years. For the past couple of days, instead of focusing on getting The Demon Always Wins onto Amazon, or getting The Demon’s in the Details cleaned up and back to my editor, or turning my creative energies toward writing The Demon Wore Stilettos, my thoughts turned to Girl’s Best Friend and what it would take to get it ready for an agent to look at.
But now I’m back in my writing cave, far from the whirl and bustle of Denver and the ambient feeling that scoring an agent is the best thing that can ever happen to an unpublished writer.
The ending of Girl’s Best Friend still isn’t right, and if that changes a lot of stuff is going to have to change in the first 90% of the book to set it up correctly. I’m guessing I could easily blow away a month piddling with it.
I’m starting to wonder if this opportunity to gain an agent is actually a big old boat headed for Tarshish.
In June, Danielle Barclay of Barclay Publicity was the guest speaker at my RWA Chapter meeting. She talked about how authors can build a strong digital footprint to support their marketing efforts.
Hearing her made me realize it’s time to put on my marketing hat. Before her presentation, I hadn’t given any thought to hiring someone to help publicize the release of my debut novel, The Demon Always Wins, which will release on Amazon on September 1st. I'd figured on a more grassroots approach:
Releasing two more books within six months of my debut to keep myself visible to the Amazon algorithm.
Asking for reviews via my newsletter and my FB author page.
Entering the book in every published-book contest I can find. It did well on the unpublished-book circuit, so getting it in front of potential readers in the form of judges seems like a good way to gain visibility.
Being patient and trusting that my funny, satisfying, off-beat book will gain an audience.
Then I listened to Dani Barclay talk about the things one should do to promote a release (and a career) and realized how naive I was. The above list wasn’t going to be nearly enough to give my book any chance of being seen and read in a world where thousands of books are released on Amazon every day.
The thing is, because I’m busy working on the next two books, doing the things I need to do to promote The Demon Always Wins will be a challenge. Especially since I don’t actually know what those things are. So, after some conversations with Dani and with the Keeper of the Budget, aka Old Dog, I decided to hire her firm to do a single title release campaign. This includes:
Two week review and excerpt tour on book blogs to include no less than 30 genre-appropriate blog sites.
A Rafflecopter giveaway campaign to promote social media likes/follows and newsletter subscriptions.
Three to four additional “first look” promotional dates at high profile sites like USA Today’s romance blog and other notable women’s romantic fiction reader-author-centric sites.
Media buys and ad designs
Facebook and Amazon advertising support as needed (ad costs extra)
In addition, she gave me tips on growing my following on my Facebook author page and my Twitter account, so that when I use them to promote my book, there are actually people there to hear the news. Using their suggestions, I expect to double my author page likes/follows before my book is released.
All of this may or may not be enough to gain traction for my book. Given that approximately 5,000 new titles are released each day just on Amazon , probably not, but I still have Plan A (being patient and trusting that the universe holds good things for me) to fall back on.
The real reward I expect to reap from this effort is mastering the basic promotional learning curve more rapidly than I ever would on my own. During this engagement, I will learn how to structure book release promotion and also, I hope, the base skills to set up ads on Amazon and Facebook.
The contract is set up to run from September 3rd to 14th. I’ll let you know how it goes!
DONE! I was waffling about this, because it required spending a chunk of cash for something that’s not that fun, and that’s never easy, but then a friendforwarded me a promotional email offering 10% off if I bought them that day, which was just what was needed to spark me into moving.
Study up on how to load a book to Amazon.
Um, not yet.
Finish this draft of Girl’s Best Friend and hand it off to some beta readers.
I got to the finish line, only to realize I didn’t buy the ending. And with release dates looming for The Demon Always Wins (September 1st–eek!) and The Demon’s in the Details it was time to put GBF down for a nap and focus on my main goals. I have since (I think) figured out how to fix the ending and if I get a couple of free days, I will.
Figure out how to address the issues my editor raised with The Demon’s in the Details. (I said she had fewer edits. I didn’t say they were easy.)
I am, as of this writing, just shy of being halfway through the manuscript, and several days ahead of schedule. There may, of course, be more surprises to come in the second half, but the way my editor generally works, the most difficult stuff usually shows up early.
Get ready for the RWA® National Conference in July. As a Golden Heart® finalist, I will be attending a reception with agents and editors, as well as the luncheon where the awards will be presented to the winners. Since my post-retirement wardrobe doesn’t have a lot of fancy clothes, this requires some planning and, possibly, shopping.
What this actually required was taking a dress I bought 25 years ago at a vintage clothing shop (that’s right–it was old when I bought it a quarter of a century ago) and replacing the ostrich feathers around the hem, (that’s right, it has ostrich feathers) which had turned brown with age, with new ones. I’m as certain as a woman can be that no one else will show up wearing the same dress.
Goals for July:
Complete my revision of The Demon’s in the Details and send it off to my copy editor on August 1, as scheduled.
Get The Demon Always Wins loaded into Amazon for pre-orders before I head for the RWA® National conference, so that I can invite people to pre-order.
Get through the RWA® National Conference. If fortune smiles on me and I happen to be the lucky writer, out of the seven paranormal finalists, who wins the Golden Heart® this year, have a speech ready so I don’t look like a clueless ditz.
Work with Barclay Publicity (more on that next week) on my release campaign for The Demon Always Wins.
A couple of weeks ago, I was still happily piddling around with Girls’ Best Friend, the contemporary romance I’ve been working on for a couple of years. Then, one morning, I suddenly realized that if I want to release The Demon’s in the Details, Book 2 of my Touched by a Demon series, on October 1st, I was in trouble.
Let’s work backward through the schedule.
October 1: Make the book live on Amazon.
Last week of September: Load the book onto Amazon. Set up any ads I’d like to create to promote the book.
First three weeks of September: Have the book proofread and formatted.
August: Have the book copy-edited and work through the copy-editor’s recommended changes. (My first book had literally thousands of recommended changes, so I need a couple of weeks after I get the book back before I can pass it on to the proofreader.)
Are you feeling panicky yet? Well, I am.
That leaves me with seven weeks to do the revisions recommended by my developmental editor. That should should have been enough time, but unfortunately (or fortunately, if you’re not looking at it from a schedule perspective), one of those weeks I’ll be in Denver for the RWA® National Conference.
What I really have is about 40 days to complete my revisions. I calculate that if I manage ten pages of revisions every day, seven days a week, I’ll have a handful of days leftover to review the whole book before send it on to the copy editor.
And once its winging its way to the copy editor, I need to immediately buckle down and finish Book 3, The Demon Wore Stilettos, so that I can release it in the first quarter of next year, before my readers have had time to forget I exist.
This is the first time I’ve ever had deadlines to meet for my writing, other than getting small chunks ready for contests.
I don’t like it.
One of the reasons I decided to go indie was that I know I don’t write fast enough to keep a traditional publishing house happy.
Now it appears I don’t write fast enough to keep myself happy, either.