Before you publish, Part 12 – Talking books

Before you Publish - 12

In the initial post to this series, I had the following check-list item: 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. A lot of writers don’t have a problem with this, but some do. I certainly did, actually, I still do. When you mention that you’ve written a book, the conversation might dwell on that book for a bit, but if you’re talking with a reader, they’re going to want to talk books and writers will want to get into nuts and bolts writing. To state the obvious, everyone is a bit different and the topics that come up are going to vary a lot. I’ve got three examples to illustrate what I’m trying to say here.

To start, I was at a party this summer and was chatting with a reader. Not a reader of my book, but just an avid reader. I mentioned that I’d just published a book (Wine Bottles and Broomsticks). This took the conversation into a discussion of what the book was about and also other books, similar books and what I like to read along with various book-to-movie adaptations and the like. This, I think, is pretty typical of a conversation where my book comes up. This isn’t the sort of thing that is going to net you a sale or a new fan, but it’s an opportunity to introduce yourself, your work and then have a meaningful conversation with a real human person about a topic you’re both interested in. In my EXTREMELY LIMITED experience, this is, hands-down, the easiest, best and cheapest way to sell a book and yourself. People you can connect with on a personal level are much more likely to give your book a try. Not everyone you encounter will, but by discussing other books, you can (subtly) plug your own work and give some context as to why it might be worth their time. That said, it’s hugely important to watch out for circumstances where your new friend will not be interested in your book and don’t push too hard. As I see it, you’re not just selling your story, you’re selling yourself as a story-teller if you push too hard, you won’t get a reader. If you come off as that interesting person from the party, what was his/her name? who wrote a book, you might find yourself appealing to a new reader. Also, ALWAYS carry around business cards with your name, website, and where your work can be found.

The second example comes from work. A colleague read the book and liked it, then she wanted to talk about the book, the characters and how she’s seeing witches all over the place now. Actually, more than one person has had this reaction. On the one hand, this is awesome, because it’s exactly what I want. on the other hand, it was unexpected and I wasn’t truly prepared for it. I don’t mind talking about my book but didn’t expect someone who’s read it to want to talk about it. That said, if I had access to an author of a book I liked, I would absolutely want to talk about it, so I shouldn’t have been terribly surprised. My point is that if you’ve written and published a book and convinced people to read it, you need to be ready to talk about that work in the same way you might talk about any other book you’ve read by any other author. Also, listen to their critical observations, not just smile and nod, note that shit for future consideration.

The last example I’ve got to provide comes from my very first author event at Black Birch Books in Wasilla (this is really a pretty neat place to visit, for a very large number of reasons –it’s the sort of place every community should have). Two people came in for the event that I have never met before (along with some Twitter folk and friends), those two people wanted a book, and they wanted to talk with an author. More importantly, they wanted to say that they too were working on a book or have been for years. This is where preparation is critical. It can be difficult to approach these conversations well. This is, in part, because during these types of situations we are trying to sell books and it can be hard to be patient for someone who is still working on theirs and haven’t quite reached a point where publishing is practical. I think the important thing to keep in mind is that they are aspiring to be behind the very same author event desk you’re behind and it’s essential to be supportive, un-judgemental, sympathetic, and as encouraging as possible. Some day, they might just be behind that same table with something very special to share. By supporting your writing community, you are contributing to a vibrant, productive, and collaborative group. That’s a huge benefit for everyone. All that said, be ready to discuss local writing groups, resources, platforms, and general information –what worked for you, what didn’t, and what you might do differently if you were to do it again. Your network of writer friends is one of the most important things you can invest in as an indie writer.

The whole long point of this article is to say – be prepared to talk about everything writing and even the smallest details of your book. At first, I wasn’t really ready for this, and it took me by surprise. My job has taught me to be good talking on my feet, so I’ve done okay here, but not everyone is going to have that skill. So my advice is that if you aren’t good at BS’ing about any random topic, then you need to prepare yourself for all manner of questions relating to reading and writing.

What do you think, do you have a different experience?

Interested in the rest of the series? Click here.

Before you publish, Part 11 – Sales Expectations

Before you Publish - 11

In the initial post to this series, I had a check-list that spoke to sales. The first item was a question asking whether or not you were ready to spend hundreds of dollars on advertising. The second was to expect abysmal sales & essentially no reviews. I’m bringing this up because I think that going into publishing, a lot of authors (myself included), imagine it’s not that hard to sell a few hundred or even in the low thousands of books. Some folks also imagine they might become the next J.K. Rowling. This is true also for the friends and family we have encouraging us. If I had a quarter for every time someone said, “J.K. Rowling had to start out somewhere too,” I could write full time and not have to worry about a pay-check. Whenever I hear this, I just roll my eyes and explain that I’m not J.K. Rowling and I’ve got to play by all of the usual rules.

That said, I do feel as though I could get myself up to a level where my work is nationally competitive, maybe even pushing toward making a living someday, but I am not ever going to hit the jackpot in story-telling the way someone like Rowling did. This is the optimism and ego speaking. I know more accurately, that even with hard work, diligent focus on improving my craft AND finding some good tales to tell, luck is still most of the equation. While I can’t say for sure, I expect true for almost all other writers. Of course, some folks are going to have luck right out of the gate, and it’s not really a small number, but when you consider the thousands upon thousands of writers releasing new material every month, you’re almost certain to be in the group that gets buried. As I’ve said before a bunch of times in this series, I’m not an expert on this, this is just what I’m seeing as I go through it myself.

To get to the point of this post, sales, I’m going to be totally up-front. As I’m writing this, I’ve sold 58 books, both e-book and digital and I think one or two people have read parts of it on KU – it’s hard to tell. This translates to a whopping, less than a hundred dollars in royalties (there are caveats here involving giveaways and things). While I regard 58 copies as a good showing, keep in mind that I’ve dropped close to $300 in advertising, $200 in paper books, and another sixty for elements of my cover. I’m under-water by over four hundred dollars – and I went CHEAP on this. In spite of the fact that sounds vaguely whiney, what I’m trying to get at is that self-publishing can be unforgiving and you’re as likely as not to spend more money than you ever make for any book.

When I first wrote the check-list to launch this series, I was 1 month in. Now I’m about 90 days in. In those first 30 days, I’d sold about 20 copies of the book total, had a solid week where I only had 1 Kindle Unlimited page read, and a single review. Nobody I didn’t know was picking the book up. Since then, things have come along (very, very modestly), but I’ve continued to post about my book and keep trying new ways to promote. I suspect that’s been keeping the ball in the air, so to speak, and the book continues to sell at a very modest pace. If I were to hazard a guess, based on my very limited experience, I’ve got a pretty typical result.

What I’m trying to say, from the perspective of a guy who impulsively published a book a few months ago (Wine Bottles and Broomsticks), is that you’re probably going to be pretty disappointed with how may people buy and read your first book –unless you’re expecting 0 sales. Again, I’m fully aware that this isn’t the only experience, but it’s been mine and I really don’t think it’s a unique situation. By all means, get your work out there, it’s important, but don’t expect to be Richard Castle. Being mentally prepared for lack-luster outcomes is going to help you stay focused on what’s important, which is writing another book and finding ways to promote. Plus, as has been pointed out to me. Indie publishing is a bit of a long game and so you’ve got plenty of time to keep your book listed and available to sell.

What was your experience in your first launch? Did you do better than 20 in the first month? Better than 60 in 3? What do you think the key to that success was?

Interested in the rest of the series? Click here.

Before you publish, Part 10 – What platform(s) do I use?!

Before you Publish - 10

As you’re probably aware, I’m busy with my first ever author event to promote Wine Bottles and Broomsticks. However, thanks to the magic of WordPress, I’ve scheduled this to keep the series going, because it’s helpful to think through what I did, and why, and why it was all not very well thought out, in spite of great advice telling me how to do it properly.

When I first made the decision to self publish, platforms didn’t even occur to me. I mean, they did. Hell, I even did a series of interviews on the topic, but I didn’t ask the truly relevant questions until I was pretty far down the road and I didn’t ask enough of the relevant questions. Initially, however, I didn’t put a lot of thought to it. I can’t say why I didn’t think of this. It should have been the very first question I was asking myself. It really started to roll around in my brain after speaking with a cover designer. Then, I started reaching out to other writers and artists and that’s when I realized just the magnitude of the oversight. You can get to that series here – there are some really great authors and perspectives. The short story is that there seem to be two basic approaches (among loads of other publishing options, which I’m not going to cover in any detail just now). These are Amazon or “go wide.”

If you’re publishing on Amazon, it looks like this: eBook, paperback, Kindle Unlimited. That’s it. That’s all you’re going to do. A lot of people going this route don’t even bother making a paperback available. The key benefit of Amazon is that it’s super easy. It used to be that Amazon had Create Space and Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), which have their own history. I came into the game after Create Space. Based on what I read, lots of people liked Create Space a lot better. In my experience, KDP makes it so easy that nobody should have an excuse for not being able to get a book up there. I mean, I do have complaints, and there are quirks, but on the whole, this is super easy.

Going wide means a lot more, and I’m not even going to pretend I understand the full scope of it. What I can give you is what I learned so far. To start, you have to answer the following questions

  • Who is going to print my book? Amazon, Lulu, Blurb, BookBaby, Ingram Spark, The Book Patch, someone else?
  • What are the ramifications of Amazon sales if I print my book through IngramSpark?
  • Do I even want to attempt trying to get my book listed in local book stores (this is possible, but not always – small towns seem to be the best options.)
  • What platforms will I distribute to? Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Kobo, Apple, Others…?
  • What aggregation service should I use (I don’t even know where to start on this one here, I gave it one google search groaned in pain and closed my browser – If anyone reading this wants to guest blog on this one, I’d love to do that.)

At face-value, going wide seems like the absolute best option to get your book in front of the largest number of possible readers. I think this is true. However, for a debut author, I’m not convinced this is actually a benefit. However, I don’t really know for sure – for the millionth time, this is my first experience in the publishing universe. What I do know is that the overwhelming majority of books sold are sold on Amazon.

When I first started, I figured I’d “go wide.” Then as I started going through the process, I realized this wasn’t necessarily a good idea. In part, because there is too much to learn that you won’t learn until you actually do it. The other part is that the expense starts to become a factor. Amazon aside, other platforms charge. If I were to start over again, here is what I would do – this may not be for you:

  • Pick a date to release, and spend at least 1-month marketing. I don’t know how frequently or how much, but this is something that I should have done.
  • Plan a launch event – this should be something you do in person if a local bookstore is willing to host, all the better. If not, maybe something creative? I really don’t know
  • Start out with Amazon only, and give yourself at least 5 weeks to get author copies AFTER you’ve taken a look at the proof and made changes.
  • Launch an e-book, paperback, and Kindle Unlimited (KU) all on the same day or within days of your launch event.
  • While you advertise and promote yourself, Prep for a ‘wide’ release –spend time researching etc… whatever that looks like for your genre.
  • Release more books, using Amazon’s extended advertising options for KU, I’m thinking of countdown discounts and free book offerings.
  • Use Amazon’s add words and reports to figure out what sorts of things gets your book sold
  • Remove your ebooks from KU (you’re enrolled for 3-month periods, this will probably be after a significant amount of time, maybe as much as 2 years!)
  • From what you’ve learned in step 2 (I don’t have advice on this yet), launch wide. This is effectively a re-release, and you can use that as a marketing tool. I don’t know that this will actually DO anything for you, especially if you find that KU is making you money.

Part of the reason for taking this approach before even considering going wide is two-fold. First off, lots of people make real money on KU. If that’s happening for you, then you don’t want to let that revenue stream go. It’s going to fund future books and in time could lead to real income. The other is that other platforms, such as IngramSpark, are difficult to use and more expensive. By going exclusive with Amazon, you can get your book out there and correct issues after publication – FOR FREE – before making it available elsewhere.

All that said, I’m not claiming that this is the way to go, what I am saying is that if I had done better planning to debut as an author, this is the route I would’ve taken. In the end, this is where I am anyhow, except that I’m only planning 2-3 books over the next year and a half. My result was a very sloppy release, which didn’t do me any favors. When you first hit Amazon and let people know your book is out there, you’ll have more interest in a narrow period than you’re likely to get at any other time. It’s essential to capitalize on that. I didn’t, and I absolutely regret it.

What do you think? For a debut indie author, go wide right out of the gate or hit hard with Amazon first, then re-launch wide after about a year? Leave a comment below.

Interested in the rest of the series? Click here.