Before you publish, Part 3 – The backlist

Before you Publish - 3

In the kick-off post to this series, I listed having 4 books ready to go in 12 months as something you should do. This is based partly on advice received from other authors, but also on my own experience in trying to set up marketing and making my advertising dollars go further. The authors I spoke with had much more specific information on this topic, but I didn’t follow-up enough to get more than the essentials of it. After the launch of Wine Bottles and Broomsticks, I understand this principle in a much more fundamental way. The extended bit of advice I’m adding is that of your 4 books, you should have 2 legs of a series. I’d further offer that you need to be prepared to continue publishing at the rate of 1-2 books a year or more. Let me explain.

The first-ever writer’s conference I attended, I spoke with several authors. Most authors, I was surprised to find, were working on just one book or had published one and were poking away at a second. At the time, I’d finished my second and was working on 2 others (both of which are still in some stage of re-writes). Back then, it struck me as counter-productive. When I finished my first book, it felt like leveling up and the experience bonus I got told me, “Have multiple things on the go.” You hear writers say this all the time, but it’s damn near impossible for other writers to listen to it. I know it took me 10+ years to figure it out. At that same conference, I started a conversation with a published author, and I asked her: what is the best way to market a book? She didn’t hesitate: Write a second book. It was emphatic and very nearly the final word on it. She added that having a mailing list helped because people who liked book one might sign up, and you could let them know book 2 was on its way. At the time, all this made sense to me but in something of an abstract fashion. Now, I see it with a lot more focus. The basic gist as I understood it both now and then is that you can use book 1 as a tool to market book 2.

To delve into the ‘why’ a bit, I think there are two critical parts of the equation. One is basic marketing. The other is psychological. The marketing aspect can be a bit of a long game. Publishing books one year apart works fine. You use book one to market the release of book two and three, and so on. This is particularly effective when you’ve got a series. If your first book is enrolled in the Kindle Unlimited program, you’ve also got some additional marketing options. One of those options is a free book promotion or a countdown deal. If you have only one book, then giving it away doesn’t make any sense and marking it down might improve sales, but that sacrifice in royalties isn’t working as hard for you as it could. If you have three or four books, then what you’ve done is offer a taste of your work to a potential fan who might go in for a full-priced version of your other work. Essentially, what you’ve got is the potential to market a suite of books for one price. If you’ve only got one book, you’re only using those marketing dollars for a single title. The faster you can get to a list, the sooner you can start maximizing your advertising dollars. Thus 4 books in 12 months.

As I’ve said before in this series of blog posts, I’m not an expert on any of this. I am supplying this advice and information based on the perspective of someone who realizes his advertising dollars aren’t going remotely as far as they could, and it’s really tough to spend $20 in one day for 8 clicks and 0 purchases.

The other aspect of having multiple books gets into psychology. Now, it might read that I’m attempting to manipulate readers into purchasing a book. That shouldn’t be your goal. Your goal should be ensuring that potential fans see material they’ll like, getting it into their hands as effectively as possible. If you’re releasing book 2 of a series twelve to eighteen months after book 1, you might be losing readers who liked book 1 and would have read book 2 but then forgot about it and you. Not great. If you release them in relatively quick succession, then you’re offering content they want in a time-frame that minimizes the risk of losing readers.

Again, as a new author, I can’t actually say I’ve seen this go down. What I do know is that I’ve had more than one reader ask for book 2 of Wine Bottles and Broomsticks. It’s nowhere near ready, and I don’t know when it’ll be released (Apple Pie and Comfortable Shoes). I’d much rather have been able to tell them, it’ll be available on a date certain. That builds anticipation and provides a way for the reader to share with other people. I.e., I know this guy who wrote a book, and I’m looking forward to book 2, which comes out in… very many authors I’ve read have come to me by word of mouth. From my perspective as an author, if I can give readers a way to share something they like with a new potential reader, I need to make sure that happens.

To take all of this further, I can see from indie writers who are making real money that this is a numbers game. The more books you have out, the better you’re going to do. This is not just because more books necessarily mean more sales linearly. It is because every book you have promotes every other book you have. It’s something more like exponential. This does not extend to your social network – those sales are likely to taper as you release more books (can you really see your second cousin buying all 8 of your books? No, but she might buy book 1).

After having said all of that, I’m willing to say: This is how I see it right now, give me 12 months, and I’m as likely as not to come back with a different perspective. The bottom line is that publishing is a numbers game, and connecting with a single reader who wants to read all your stuff is like striking gold. They will tell their friends, and maybe one of them will like your work, and the pattern continues. If I could hit the reset button and do it over again, I’d have set up to release 1 book a quarter for a year.

As an author, what has been your experience? Is it contrary to this advice? Give it to us from your perspective in the comments.

Before you publish, Part 2 – Should you go indie?

Before you Publish - 2

In the first post for this series, I gave a checklist of items authors need to consider before actually publishing based on my own, recent experience. One of the things not in that checklist, which you still need to work out, is what publishing route to take? I’ve written a few blogs on this during my own journey. The truth is there is no easy answer. I think a lot of us crave the legitimacy and validation of a traditional publishing deal, but given the nature of the industry at the moment, this isn’t going to be an option for a lot of people. From my perspective, there isn’t a generic right answer. The direction you go depends on what is going to work for you.

When I chose to go indie, it was because I realized that getting a book deal was actually within the realm of possibility, but it meant levels of commitment I couldn’t hold to. I have a job that pays a living wage and benefits, two essentials for my family. Had I gotten a good publishing deal, and managed lots of sales, a debut author wasn’t going to make enough to live on. Not that it couldn’t happen, because it does, but that’s more of a Cinderella situation having more to do with luck and persistence.

Still, choosing to go traditional is a solid route for someone committed to making this their career while being both willing and able to make necessary sacrifices. As I said, you will need to supplement your income even if you sell tens of thousands of copies. One approach is to write lots of things in lots of different venues or working another job until you ‘make it.’ This was the case for the most famous and successful writers out there, though you hear plenty of anecdotes of success on the first try – again, think Cinderella.

Choosing to go indie means several things. First, it means that this is going to be your side-gig unless you get very lucky. Second, it means that you’ve got a very, very steep hill to climb in terms of getting exposure and making sales. This is why the checklist from the first post is so essential. You need to be prepared every step of the way to make a successful launch. It could mean the difference between having ten book sales over a year on Amazon and getting to the point where people you don’t know are picking it up and sharing your work with friends. Also, luck isn’t particularly kind to folks who aren’t prepared to take full advantage of a break.

The third thing to keep in mind about being an indie author is that you’re going to be doing ALL of the work. On the one hand, it’s nice, because you’ve got 100% full creative control. On the other, you’re going to be responsible for every aspect of book production from choosing the font to developing targeting for your advertising. It’s exhausting and will take away a lot of writing time. Remember, you’re also probably working a full-time job too or perhaps you’re a stay-at-home parent with multiple competing priorities.

There are also other options to consider, such as small presses and crowd-sourcing. These are also good options, but again, you’ve got to look at these for how they fit you as an author and your goals. For example, crowd-funding is much harder than self-publishing but can pay out bigger rewards if you can pull it off. My best advice for any author on the fence about what to do is the following:

  • Look at traditional first. Submit to agents, see what comes back. I’ve had an agent practically beg me for work, and simultaneously shit on me so hard I very nearly quit writing. It was instructive and helped me gain perspective. Another benefit is that this takes a long time and will give you time to continue developing your back-list or hone your skills.
  • Look at small presses. This option isn’t for everyone, but there are quite a few, and they can help you get out there and get exposure. They help with marketing, editing, and general book production. I didn’t go this route because I couldn’t find a press that was reaching out for the sort of stories I produce.
  • If you have a large enough platform on social media, consider crowd-funding. There are options out there that will act as a traditional publisher if you can get enough pre-orders. That said, if you have fewer than about ten thousand followers on any given platform, this may not really work out for you. When I tried this route, I got probably 25 or 30 pre-orders from folks on social media who have supported me. At the time, I needed a total of 500. This might be an option for folks producing under a platform like Wattpad who have gained a following and are ready to take the next step. I don’t write for Wattpad, so I’m not sure if this makes any sense.
  • If you’ve gotten this far and you’re coming up dry, it’s time to consider self-publishing. Before you do, however, revisit the pre-publication checklist I put together as a starting point.

 

Before you really steam ahead with self-publishing, assuming you’ve done your research and so on, you need to stop and ask yourself: Is your book really, actually ready, and do people want to read it? One of the things I’m struggling with right now is whether or not I have published a book that should have been published. So far, the feedback I’ve gotten from virtually all the readers of Wine Bottles and Broomsticks is: That was actually pretty good. Several people have finished the book in the span of a weekend and asked for book 2. My previous book, which I didn’t publish, was read by a total of 3 people and I gave it out to a lot more than that. It was enough for me to stop and re-evaluate things. At the time, I decided to try something different, if nothing else, to take a break from that first story. It was possibly the best writing decision I’ve ever made.

My point here is that if you’re experiencing a situation where your proof-readers or beta-readers aren’t finishing or can’t provide much feedback, you may need to consider taking a very hard look at the story and thinking about whether or not it’s time to try something different. This is extremely difficult advice for writers to take. Most of us don’t, and that’s okay, but being stubborn isn’t going to help you out much in your writing career.

I don’t know if that helped you, but it’s been my process, and I think it was pretty good. If I had to do it again, I would probably have done it in the same order, except I’d have skipped trying out crowd-funding. That was a dead-end for someone like me.

Did you have a different experience? Leave me a comment for discussion on what you decided to do and why.

Before you publish, Part 1 – Pre-publication checklist for new authors, by a newly published author

Before you Publish - 1

This post is the start of a series sharing my experiences in publishing. This is targeted at writers looking to go indie. As I write this, I am concluding my first month as a published author. I released Wine Bottles and Broomsticks, my debut novel about an inept witch hunter who seems to drown in personal drama and attracts witches like flies to honey. This was the second-ever book I finished. Putting it out in the world was a tremendous learning experience. Within about a day of hitting publish on the KDP dashboard, I learned twice as much about publishing as I did leading up to it. That comes in spite of a series of interviews with other authors asking them specifically about their experiences.

The first post in this series is just a checklist. Before you hit ‘publish’ go through this list. If you’re absolutely set on traditional publishing also go through it. Most of it is still relevant.

  1. [Y | N] – I have 1 book ready to go right now, and at least 3 more that could be ready to publish in the next 12 months.
  2. [Y | N] – At least 2 of my books belong to the same series (book 1 / book 2)
  3. [Y | N] – I have developed and memorized 5-second and 30-second pitches.
  4. [Y | N] – All of my work has been read by others, I have received and incorporated feedback.
  5. [Y | N] – I have, at a bare minimum, used an application like Grammarly to edit my work or asked a competent friend to proof-read. For indie authors, you will have, ideally, hired an editor.
  6. [Y | N] – I believe I know who my core audience is (YA/Middle Grade/Women aged 18-32 etc…)
  7. [Y | N] – I have researched other books similar to mine and authors that have a similar style.
  8. [Y | N] – I have asked those who have read my work, what authors and books it is most similar to.
  9. [Y | N] – I have connected with other writers about their experiences and asked for advice (you will not be selling your book to these folks, they are your colleagues, not your audience)
  10. [Y | N] – I have developed a social media presence – Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, blog
  11. [Y | N] – I have developed a plan for advertising & marketing
  12. [Y | N] – I have researched local bookstores and am prepared to engage owners / managers in a discussion about hosting an author event.
  13. [Y | N] – I am prepared to spend hundreds of dollars on advertising
  14. [Y | N] – I have mentally prepared myself for a single page-read on KU, and no more than 10 total book sales in the first month, and maybe a single review.
  15. [Y | N] – I am prepared to talk with people about my work, my book, writing in general, and other books similar to mine or that helped me learn the craft.

For indie authors only:

  1. [Y | N] – I have purchased or have access to software that can layout my books (InDesign, Vellum, Scrivener, etc…)
  2. [Y | N] – I have access to software to produce a book cover (InDesign/Canva) or have contracted with a designer
  3. [Y | N] – I know exactly where and how I am going to publish my book and on which platforms (Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, IngramSpark, Lulu, etc…)

If you have answered No to ANY of the above. You may not quite ready to go yet – keeping in mind that this is the opinion of a debut author but were I to do it over again, I’d make damn sure all of them were YES before moving forward. All of these items on the list are not things I consider myself an expert at. These are listed because they’re what I have or am struggling with. I don’t intend this to be the fully-unabridged version of how to prepare yourself, by any means. Every day that goes by is a new experience for me that threatens to add one more bullet point. That said, we can all help one another out and, as item number 9 suggests above, be prepared to ‘pay it forward’ to help out your fellow authors and community. We are all stronger that way.

What do you think? Should there be another item on the list? What would it be? Leave a comment below.