Standing in a field, yelling at the sky

 

…Also known as the Business of Self-Publishing.

Year One (of many, hopefully)

I’d like to take some time to talk a little bit about what goes into the business of being a self-published author. Before I begin, I want to make it clear that these opinions and observations are entirely my own and I am not advocating some kind of universal truths or stating that I know all about “the way things are.” My goal here is to tell you why I decided to self-publish and what has been my experience with it thus far.

Also, my books are on sale this week. That’s mainly what made me think to write this post. Dead Empire is FREE and Troubled King is $0.99! Check out those links in the sidebar on my Home Page when you get the chance.

I absolutely guarantee my books won’t make you violently ill. What have you got to lose? ūüėČ

 

buyforadollar

 

When I started writing in earnest, I was 39 years old and already washed out of three different careers – bookselling, computer game design, and programming. I knew writing was the only marketable skill I had left that I hadn’t truly tried to parlay into a way to make a living, so I thought I’d dive right in and give it a shot. But, how to make writing a full time occupation? At first, I tried a somewhat realistic approach of writing articles for on-line zines. I found this to be boring, non-lucrative and a frustrating waste of my writing energies. I felt like I wasn’t writing what I actually wanted to write about. If I was going to be a writer, I was going to do it on my terms, else why bother?

So, I decided I’d concentrate on writing Grant Scotland full time. But what should I do when I finished the first book? How was I going to go about publishing it? Should I get an agent? I thought about this for a while and did quite a bit of research and asked both traditionally published and self-published authors what they thought. There were various opinions, of course, but everywhere I looked I saw one common thread: You have to decide what your goals are and then proceed from there. I decided I had three main goals:

1) To write full time. I would let nothing else claim more time than my writing career.

2) Never give the rights to my creations to anyone anywhere ever. I went through that in the games industry and vowed never to let it happen again.

3) To not wait on anyone else. When I think my book is ready, I’ll publish it. If the market says they hate it, the responsibility is mine. I’ve worked with publishers before and I know for a fact that they don’t know any better than I do what’s good and what sells. That doesn’t mean I don’t use an editor and don’t get feedback and advice from other professionals – it just means the ultimate decision of how and when to publish will always be mine.

So, I was pretty sure I was headed for self-publishing. I devoured Konrath’s blog, which is a great resource for getting started, and hunted through KBoards and Goodreads for tips and strategies. The more I read, the more convinced I became that self-publishing was right for me. However, at the same time, I discovered that there was very little chance I was going to make any money at it. At least, not in the short term. This was somewhat disconcerting, but not at all surprising. Although Konrath found a gold mine in relatively little time when he decided to self-publish, he already had developed a small but loyal following and also entered the market with an impressive backlist. I had neither of those things. I did have a chair, though…

 

A disturbingly accurate depiction of the author.

A disturbingly accurate depiction of the author.

 

Nevertheless, I pressed forward and published Dead Empire a year ago this May and then Troubled King in October. My initial spending on promoting Dead Empire was restrained, since I reasoned that trying to get people to buy book one in a series with no proof that there would ever be a book two was an uphill battle not worth fighting. Here are the details of my spending on promotions and production in the first year of my self-publishing enterprise. It’s pretty dry reading, but I haven’t seen any other authors release this info, so I thought I’d do it for posterity. Hopefully, you’ll find it helpful and educational.

Spy for a Dead Empire
Production:
Cover art: $275 (E-Lance contractor Thomas M. of Writely Designed)
Editing/Formatting/Proofing: $650 (E-Lance contractor Joni Wilson)
Promotion: (May ’14 to July’14)
Facebook community ad page and initial promotion: $50
Yield: About 125 page likes, around 4,000 appearances (?) and 250 page views. A few sales.
 
Book Review Broker purchase: $110
Yield: About 200 Amazon reviewers were contacted through this service and invited to review my book (they would receive a free “reviewers copy”). About a dozen responded and no one was interested.¬†Massive¬†failure for me, but others have had some success with it. The guy who invented it is a good guy, but I think his program still needs some tweaks, not to mention a much lower price point.
 
Goodreads advertising campaign: $100
Goodreads site will advertise my book to audiences I select that use their site until a certain number of clicks is reached.¬†I purchased this in June and about 1000 readers have “seen”¬†it, but have not received one click. I asked for my money back and stopped this a few months ago in favor of running the same kind of thing on Amazon, where I’ve received more traction.
 
Boosted Facebook post after 1 month: $30
“Have you reviewed your copy…”¬†post on community page.¬†¬†Reached about 4000 people. Generated a¬†few sales and page likes.
 
Re-Boosted Facebook post: $30
Reboosted prior post and reached about 3,000 people. Generated a couple of sales and page likes.
 
Boosted Facebook post re: twitter: $30
A boosted post on the¬†community page announcing the author’s twitter stream. Reached around 4500 people. No noticeable¬†effect on twitter or in sales. A couple of page likes.
—————————————————————————————-
At this point, I stopped all promotions and decided I wouldn’t spend any more money until Troubled King came out.
————————————–
Troubled King
Production:
Cover art: $275 (E-Lance contractor Thomas M. of Writely Designed)
Editing/Formatting/Proofing: $650 (E-Lance contractor Joni Wilson)
Promotions (combined with Dead Empire, October ’14 to present)
FBpage release announcement – $60 (OCT)EBookBooster – $40 (for the three day free giveaway of book 2 on Kindle Select) (NOV)
-generated around 200 free downloads on Amazon
FBpage boost announcing promo – $20Booksends – $30 – 1 week of .99 of book 1 (NOV)
-generated around 20 sales on Amazon

FBpage boost announcing .99 book 1 promo – $20 (NOV)

At this point, I determined that Facebook ads are a waste of money. The sales I generated were mostly from friends and family, as far as I could tell. I read somewhere that the page likes are automatically generated from Facebook employees or bots. It buffs your community page likes, but doesn’t do anything for sales. However, I also read that the $5 basic boost is worth it, since it makes sure that all the people who like your page (your core supporters) will see your announcement. These are your prime word-of-mouthers, so it pays to keep them in the loop (that’s the theory anyway). Without the $5 boost, they might miss the announcement of a release or sale.

Big December ’14 Promotion push:

Signed up for free ebook promo for book 2 on ebookbooster ($40) 12/19-12/20

Signed up for .99 ebook promo for book 1 on ebookbooster ($25) 12/19-12/24

SweetFreeBooks – $5 per bargain/freebook promo

Indie Book of the Day – 50% off promos = $25 bargain promo for 1 month for book 1 and $15 KDP Select promo for giveaway days for book 2.
Also submitted book 1 and 2 for review. (no review yet)
The book 1 promo through this site did nothing in sales.

bargainbooksy – Typical bargain book newsletter service.
Signed up for a promo on 12/13 at $40. Includes email to subscribers and
book cover featured on site.
12/13 – Sold 7 copies of book1
12/14 – sold none
12/15 – sold none
12/16 – sold none
12/17 – sold none

genre pulse – fairly typical scheduled promo site, $10 or $30
BOUGHT $10 ADS FOR BOOKS 1 and 2 FOR 12/19

 

In the middle of arranging the above promotions, I found conclusive evidence from other self-published authors that stacking various ad-buys together during the same promotion can have a magnifying effect on the algorithm that Amazon uses to determine which books it chooses to display in peoples’ “You may also like” field. I have no idea why it took me about seven months to finally dig up that little gem of advice, but I’m not sure it would have helped me much in the fledgling campaigns I was doing for Dead Empire alone. At any rate, I was able to stack some, but not all, of my ads during December and noticed a marked improvement in distribution. The next promotion, I got everything together correctly, including getting this blog up and tweeting regularly and making sure the Author Central page was playing nice with both.

 

February ’15 “Spy Who Loved Free” Giveaway event:

PROMO DATE was 2/11 + 2/12 TWO DAY GIVEAWAY
THESE PROMOS RAN:

RIFFLE SELECT – Wednesday, Feb 11th ($40)
Ebookbooster – Wednesday, Feb 11th and 12th ($40)
Booksends – Wednesday, Feb 11th ($50)
ebooksoda – Thursday, Feb 12th ($10)
Amazon Ad Campaign – 2/3 to 3/8 ($100)

 

This was all promotion for book 1, since book 2 was still ineligible for a $0.99 promotion. Many of the ebook sites with big subscribers don’t like it if you try to promote a bargain book too soon after it has been promoted for free. Book 2 had been free for a little bit in December. This was all right with me, since I was curious about sell through. I wanted to see if the book 1 giveaway would result in people buying book 2 at full price. Some did, but the numbers weren’t staggering. What was undeniably successful was the free giveaway itself. In one two-day giveaway event, around 2500 people downloaded Dead Empire! This was the kind of number I had been looking for.

So, what did I learn so far?

1) Only do $5 boosts for FB

2) Stack Ad Buys

3) Don’t run promotions any more often than once every three months.

4) POSSIBLY – start moving away from free giveaways and concentrate on bargain and bundle promotions (when book 3 releases). This was more from some stuff I just read yesterday than from my own evidence, but I’ve seen several authors move away from free giveaways since it just isn’t generating the sell through it once did.

 

I’m treating my self-publishing as a business. All businesses are expected to lose money in AT LEAST the first two years of operation. What I’m doing is carving out market share. I’m creating my brand and I’m putting together a customer base. Would I rather be concentrating on writing and letting some publisher worry about the business side of things? No doubt. But the truth (as far as I’ve seen and heard) is that a publisher is never going to invest as much time and effort (not to mention money) into me as I need and deserve.

I’ve read in several places that a self-pubbed author has no realistic chance at making any money until he has at least four books out, but I think it more likely that the number is closer six. Six GOOD books, by the way. And by GOOD, I mean actual novels that have been professionally produced. The actual writing quality is largely subjective. For example, I’ll never understand how people think Dan Brown’s writing is good – that’s a matter of opinion – but it is undeniably professionally produced.

So, I’m thinking I’ve got another couple of years before I can realistically expect returns on my investments, but PLEASE don’t look at what I’ve reported here as some kind of blue print for success. I’m not successful yet and might never be (financially speaking, anyway). But I’m realistic about what it’s going to take to have a shot at being successful. The next couple of years are going to be scary, but I’ve got plenty of old clothes and ramen noodles are still pretty inexpensive, so I’m feeling prepared.

I hope you found something interesting or entertaining in my recap of Year One: My Own Year of Living Dangerously.¬† Here’s hoping there will be a Year Two.