self publishing advice

09/02/15 Fearless , Indie , Lawless , Mob Boss Series , Reading , Romance , Ruthless , Self-Publish , Uncategorized , Writing # , , , , , , , ,

A Big First Month for RUTHLESS

front_6ix9i_RGB_300dpiIt’s September 2nd. A month ago today, Ruthless, my first self-pubbed novel wasn’t out yet. I had no idea what was in store, how well (or not) the book would sell, if going hybrid would change the landscape of my career like I hoped by giving me more control over my work and how it’s published and marketed.

Hard to believe that so much can change in a month.

But it did, and I’m happy to report that Ruthless sold over 6,000 copies in August. It’s a number that was far beyond my wildest expectations back when I was hoping royalties from the first month would just cover the money I spent on covers, formatting, marketing, etc.

One of the biggest reasons I decided to give self-publishing a try is because of all the Indie and hybrid authors who went before me. For context, it’s important to note that discretion is highly valued in traditional publishing. One doesn’t talk openly about advances or royalties, about the editors we find difficult, about publishing houses who have reneged on promises (it’s okay to shout from the rooftops about those we love, and we do!).

I get it. Being professional is important in any business, and much of this information is of a highly personal nature. Still, it’s been difficult not having easy, timely access to sales numbers and earn-out rates over the past few years. It’s hard to know if you need to make changes to your marketing plan or do something different without data.

One of the most refreshing things about going Indie with my adult work has been the utter transparency, both among many Indie authors and with regards to real-time data. It’s been a little exhilarating to watch my numbers climb, and those moments were well worth the few times when they dropped and I was left wondering if it was a trend, if it was due to everyone going back to school, if maybe I’d simply reached the end of RUTHLESS’s novelty as a new book. In a way, those moments were good for me, too. They were a reminder that you can watch your numbers all day long, but when push comes to shove, you need to keep your head down and write more books.

Anyway, I’m not sure I would have taken the plunge if not for all the authors who were generous and brave enough to report their experiences before me. Because of this, I feel like I owe a debt to pay it forward for anyone else out there thinking of going this route. This is where it gets a bit squicky for me, because I don’t like talking about my personal income any more than the next person, but it’s impossible to share sales numbers without talking royalties (mostly because anyone can figure it out knowing that the standard royalty on a self-pubbed book at $3.99 is 70%), and it’s impossible to give you an idea how life-altering this experience has been without talking sales numbers.

With that in mind, I’m going to be totally straight with you, with the caveat that I will probably not do this again, at least not to this degree of detail. I’m sure there are lots of ways I can screen shot and post graphs, but it’s the first day of school and I’m running on three hours sleep, so I’m going to keep it simple

August 2015

Total Books Sold (all formats) – 6,218

Print Copies Sold – 13

Digital Copies Sold (iBooks) – 19

Digital Copies Sold (Nook) – 41

Digital Copies Sold (Kindle) – 6,145

Total Royalties – $15,198.69

These numbers are with only one book – RUTHLESS – for sale. I never once discounted it, because I feel strongly that authors (and all artists) should be paid fairly for their work. This means all 6,000+ copies of the book were sold at my current full price of $3.99.

This is what it looked like;

Screen Shot 2015-09-02 at 11.26.51 AMThe vast majority of sales were from Amazon for the Kindle platform. To be honest, I wasn’t very surprised. I had heard that Kindle sales compromised a majority of the digital marketplace — I just hadn’t realized how much. And while I know this isn’t going to be popular with some, I have to say; I can see why.

Buying in the Kindle store and reading on a Kindle device is so easy, and from an Indie author’s perspective, Amazon is by far the simplest to work with in ease of upload, speed of listing, access to foreign markets, and resolution of problems/questions. Like anyone, I feel a little nervous knowing that so much of my income is tied up with one distributor, but if another retailer wants that to change, they need to do better to compete in this space. Because frankly, Amazon is killing it on every level. I don’t always love the decisions they make, but the truth is, I haven’t always loved the decisions made in traditional publishing either.

Another interesting trend; RUTHLESS killed it in the UK Amazon store. Even now, nearly a month after it’s a release, it’s sitting at 503 in all Kindle books and 29 in New Adult Romance. The book also did well in Canada and Australia, with a few copies sold in Europe, and even in India.

If you read my post two weeks into the month, you know that the Facebook ad set up by AuthorBuzz was instrumental in giving the book the push it needed to get more visibility (you can see on the graph the crazy turn things took when the ad kicked in). That continues to be true, and I can’t say enough how much I recommend them for marketing and ad consultation. The ad image was just one part of what gave the books legs. Without the design expertise of the people at AuthorBuzz (they know how to work within Facebook’s parameters for maximum success) and keyword knowledge, the ad may very well have sat in the sidebar with no clicks. As it is, I have received thousands of clicks on the ad, and it’s still going strong. That traffic to the book got me more sales, which pushed Ruthless up on the list of Hot New Releases on Amazon and gave me yet more visibility. For a long time, the book was on pages 2-4 in several categories, and that really helped as well. As more people read it, more people reviewed it, talked about it, added it to their Goodreads shelves. It was a beautiful circle of momentum that began with the ad, and I plan to continue using AuthorBuzz for marketing on an ongoing basis for both my Indie work and my traditionally published work.

There was a bit of a learning curve — and a courage curve — with preorders. I didn’t list FEARLESS (the second book in the Mob Boss series) for preorder because Amazon has some rules about preorders that made it scary for me. Namely, you have to upload the final file ten days before the release or lose your preorder privileges for a year. As someone who’s sometimes tweaking small things right up until the book goes live, I just wasn’t ready to commit to it, especially since I was working to get the books out close together for my readers.

But I decided to do a preorder for LAWLESS, the final book in the series. I want readers to be able to see that the final book will be available the month after Fearless releases, and I wanted to be able to put the link in the back of Fearless to make it easy. This meant I had to upload the Lawless preorder before Fearless is even out in order to have the Buy link for my formatter. I’m sure it’s a little confusing for anyone digging around on Amazon for book two to find only books one and three available, but it will all make sense in a few days when Fearless is up on Monday. Next time, I’ll build in lots of time and list each book for preorder before publishing the first one.

I can’t tell you how much fun this has been, and how, well, RELIEVED I feel. I don’t think I realized how scared I was all the time. Scared that I wouldn’t be able to keep selling books to trad pub, scared that my advances there would dwindle, scared that I had zero control over the fate of my career and my ability to support my family. For now, I still hope to sell my YA stuff to trad pub, but for the first time in a long time, I am resting easy in the knowledge that there are people who want to read my stories — and that I have the ability to get those stories to them for the foreseeable future. I’m excited to write the next series (based on characters introduced in Ruthless), and maybe to play in the serial space, too.

I know not everyone will get these results out of the gate. I’ve been lucky to have a career in traditional publishing that gave me a platform, and some of those readers have followed me to my adult work. But there is a place for good books that might not find a home in the traditional publishing marketplace, and there is some comfort to that. For you, too, I hope.

Thanks to everyone who has supported me and cheered me on. Biggest thanks of all to those of you who bought, read, reviewed, and recommended RUTHLESS. None of the stories would matter if you weren’t there to read them.

<3

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08/06/15 Book News , Indie , Mob Boss Series , Romance , Ruthless , Uncategorized , Writing # , , , , , , ,

Self Publishing; The First Four Days

Well, I’ve  been self-publishing for four whole days, and while I’m far from an expert, I’ve learned a few things!

 

 

I’ve promised to be as transparent as possible about my experience, so rather then give you one giant post at the end, I’m going to keep you updated any time it seems I have information that might help.

So far I feel pretty good about how well Ruthless is doing. I’m going to wait to give you numbers until everything shakes out at the end of the month, but I’ve been surprised to find that I’m selling a decent number of books every day. I think I’m doing some things that have helped (which I’ll share), but I know I still have a lot to learn. The book is listed at $3.99. It’s held steady at around 20,000 in the Kindle store, and it hovers right around 1100 in Contemporary Fiction > Romance, which is a huge category. This feels good to me given that I’m using a pseudonym and have never written a full length novel in this genre. I’m looking forward to the release of FEARLESS, the sequel to Ruthless, on September 7th. Hopefully having the second book out so soon after the first will bring in new readers (Lawless, the third and final book in this series, will release a month later in October).

For now, here are my lessons learned;

1. Get your cover right. This is a BIG one. Quite possibly THE biggest one after producing a solid story (which is a given here – seriously people, I’m not even going to waste space talking about that). I spoke to several authors before embarking on this journey and they all said the same thing; Cover is King. The problem with a lot of Design-Yourself-Covers is that they just don’t look professional. And professional is really important, especially when it comes to self-publishing which already has an unfairly bad rap for quality. I used an online service called 99Designs on the recommendation of several friends and was over the moon with the results. 99Designs allows designers to bid for your project, which gives you lots of options and allows you to inform the evolution of the design. Prices for book covers start at $300 and go up from there. I connected with a fantastic designer for that price and ended up giving her the work for all three covers (the covers for Fearless and Lawless were quite a bit cheaper). I’m ecstatic to have her on board and will continue to use her for everything, and I’m pretty sure my cover has gone a long way toward making readers feel like they’re getting a quality product.

2. Proofread WAY past the point where you think you need to proofread. I’ve always had respect for my copyeditors in traditional publishing. It’s SO tedious going through a manuscript with a fine tooth comb, and your brain does this thing where it shows you what you expect to see. So “form” looks like “from” even though it’s clearly a typo. You don’t see it — but your readers often do. I went through Ruthless very carefully after uncorrected galleys (which were sent out pre-copyedit because of time constraints) went out to bloggers. I even had someone else proof it. But there were still typos in the uploaded file, and to be honest, a friend and reader has found a few more that my formatter will fix today. It’s embarrassing to admit this! I do freelance editing, and I’m extremely careful about stuff like this, but it just validates what I tell editing clients; you CAN NOT edit your own work and get the same result, and it pays to have more than one person read through your book slowly for typos. Luckily, the digital platform means you can make changes even after you upload — but don’t count on it. Do everything in your power to make sure the book is perfect out of the gate.

3. A great formatter is worth his or her weight in gold. Mine was absolutely awesome and was also very responsive, critical when I was uploading and had a problem that needed resolving asap. Also, she’s been a gem about fixing those typos I mentioned above, which is important because unless you have the formatting software and know how to use it, going in and doing it yourself is more complicated than it sounds (at least for me!).

4. Give yourself plenty of time to upload. I started uploading three days before Ruthless was slated to release. I didn’t tell anyone, because I wanted everything to be in place for release day, and I’m glad I didn’t. I tweaked the description several times, played with the metadata (see below), and resolved problems with an old Nook Press account I had forgotten I had. The Amazon KDP platform was by far the easiest and fastest to use, and their Customer Service team was extremely responsive when I had questions. I also got help from many generous people on the Kindle boards. Nook Press was, frankly, a nightmare. There were all kinds of tricky rules regarding accounts and it took a lot longer  to get help, in part because I think their Customer Service is offshore, and the language barrier became problematic at times (at least two emails were wasted without getting an answer to the question I asked). Once I got everything resolved, the book showed as On Sale a good two days before it actually showed up on B&N online. But one thing I like about the Nook Press system is that you can make changes to the manuscript (like correcting typos) using their system, which means I didn’t have to go back to my formatter to make a small change. iBooks was my least favorite in terms of ease-of-use. First of all, you have to download two different apps to upload the book — iBooks and Producer.  You also need an iTunes connect account, which is different from your regular iTunes account. Then it was around three full days from the time I uploaded the book until it was actually on sale in the iTunes store. As the release date for Ruthless got closer, I was glad I’d given myself extra time to get everything in order.

5. Connect with other writers in your genre. This is true of both self-pubbed and traditionally published writers. Since most of my work has been YA, I didn’t know many writers in the romance genre, but I started reading romance and connecting with the people who write it months before my release. I learned so much about the genre that way, and it’s been gratifying to have their support, even if it’s just in an occasional tweet or share on social media. I’ve been very lucky to have a few friends in the genre who have gone above and beyond by reading and blurbing the book and spreading the word to their readers, and I’m looking forward to the day when I can pay it forward, both to them and to other newbies like me.

One word of advice; don’t be a user. Working relationships, like all relationships, are best founded on authenticity. It’s always a nice bonus when you can help a friend or they can help you, but it’s much more sincere to show a genuine interest in their work and to connect on a personal level where possible. I don’t connect on a personal level with every writer out there, and that’s okay. I focus on building genuine friendships (online and otherwise) and let the rest take care of itself.

6. Get all the help you can afford. I made the decision early on to hire InkslingersPR to do a release day blitz and two-week blog tour for Ruthless. To be honest, this isn’t money I have laying around. It was hard to part with it. But I do think it’s made a difference, and it’s been a relief to focus on writing while the bloggers that are part of the tour take the lead in spreading the word. They’ve done a great job so far, and the peace of mind it’s given me has been more than worth the money I spent. I’m pretty sure a good part of the reason why I’m selling regularly is because of the sustained attention given to the book during the campaign.

7. Try Facebook ads (and others) if you can afford to. I’m still experimenting with this, but so far I’ve been happy with the results. As a disclaimer I have to ad that I have a very knowledgeable friend who has helped me get this done right, but so far my ad on FB (I’m paying  maximum of $100) has garnered about 1500 targeted impressions and 30 clicks to the Buy page (the last time I checked). I’m also going to experiment with a Goodreads ad. It’s a bit more than the FB ad, but I think the reach is a lot wider. I’ll try to keep you posted on my results going forward.

8. Play with your metadata until you get it right. Metadata is the keywords and categories used to drive readers to your book. If you list your book as Action Adventure but it’s really a Romance, the right readers won’t find it. And if you simply use the keyword “romance”, it will get lost amid the millions of other books categorized that way. There is tons of great information online about metadata (I think I’ve read about twenty hours worth), but I’ve found that “keyword stuffing” helps a lot. This means instead of wasting one of my keywords with “romantic mystery”, I use “romantic suspense mystery thriller”. Instead of using “contemporary romance”, I use “contemporary urban modern new york city romance”. Because all of those words are within the commas, they count as one keyword. Try to think about the search strings reader might use to find a book like yours if they don’t know about your book. You can also start typing things into the search bar as if you’re a reader, i.e. “romantic suspense” pulls up previous searches for “romantic suspense kindle books”, “romantic suspense books”, and “romantic suspense boxed set.” If any of these things apply to your book, use them!

Obligatory word of caution; don’t abuse the system by invoking the names of similar authors or using adjectives that won’t always be true (like “new”). You MIGHT get away with it, but you might not, and if you don’t, your book can be delisted. Just be smart and follow the rules, and if you search for your book using adjectives a reader might use but don’t find it, it’s time to tweak your metadata until it comes up higher in the search results.

I think that’s it! But it’s a lot for four days, amIright?

 

 

Please check back over the next month for more updates. In the meantime, you can buy Ruthless on Amazon, B&N, and iTunes, and you can add it to your Goodreads shelf here.

 

 

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Michelle Zink is the award-winning author of over seven novels. She lives in New York with too many teenagers and too many cats.
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