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Talking 30 Books, 5 Years of Self-Publishing, and Making a Living Writing on The Creative Penn

| Posted in Interviews / Success Stories |

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Hey, all! Just a quick note to let you know that Joanna Penn interviewed me for her popular and long-lived author-prenuer podcast, The Creative Penn. If you want to hear two full-time indie authors talk about the biz, stop by for a listen. She also has a transcript of the show up on her site, if you prefer to read.

If you’re an author and looking for more information on self-publishing and marketing, I’m also on the Science Fiction & Fantasy Marketing Podcast every week, interviewing authors and sharing what’s working out there. Come visit us too! 🙂

Readers, Dragon Blood 7, Soulblade, is either out now or will be in a few hours, so check your favorite store. Also, stop by the blog in a few days for a bonus scene.

Thanks, and enjoy the holidays!

Texting New Releases, Series Pricing, and Succeeding in YA Fantasy with Terah Edun

| Posted in Interviews / Success Stories |

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Even though I know you guys love hearing me ramble every week (you do, right?), it’s nice to hear from other authors. Terah Edun has been rocking it this year with her YA fantasy novels, so I cornered her in a dark alley and interrogated her. I was particularly intrigued when I noticed she was using a text messaging system for sending out new-release information to readers who signed up for the service. The newsletter 2.0? If you read on, you’ll see how her experience trying this went at the bottom here.

Interview with YA Fantasy Author Terah Edun

Thanks for stopping by the blog (er, dark alley), Terah. Let’s jump right into the questions! 

You’re making waves and selling well with your YA fantasy novels. Do you want to tell us a little about the stories and what made you choose to self publish?

Hi Lindsay,

First, thank you for having me on your blog! This is a really cool occasion for me and you’ll see why in a minute. I’m primarily a Young Adult fantasy writer, with two High Fantasy series and one Urban Fantasy series. They all have a heroine as their protagonist and focus on coming of age in a medieval world that’s more Game of Thrones than Tolkien. Except for the magic. I go overboard on magic.

Young Adult Fantasy stories have been my passion since childhood and when I began self-publishing at the start of 2013 I really wanted to write what I loved to read. As do most authors. However, my writing journey was a rocky road of understanding what worked for the market and what worked for myself.

At the start of my selfpub journey I’d never written a fictional account of anything aside from English 203 essays in high school. I wasn’t the writer who submitted short stories to magazines at age 12 or went to conventions to get her books signed and asked ‘How do I do what you do?’. I read half a dozen books a month but I never wrote.

Now let’s fast-forward a few years to when I was a full-time development specialist working overseas. In my free time, when I had no electricity (so no tv or internet) I started writing out of boredom. Something to keep my mind occupied. Once I put pen to paper, or fingers to the keyboard as it were, nothing could stop me. I wrote my first novel in a little under a year, and it was representative of all the things that can go wrong in a first attempt. But still I loved it. So I queried three agents, got zero replies, and just about gave up.

Now, when I said it was a cool occasion for me to appear on your blog, I really meant it! And this is why. I wasn’t really pursuing traditional publishing all too enthusiastically (hello, 3 queries) but I didn’t think about self-publishing either. That is until I started to read the stories about Amanda Hocking. The expositions on Hocking’s brilliant run however didn’t quite explain how she went about it. And that’s where you (and KB) came in. A friend tipped me off to your blog and it was your posts that gave me the nuts-and-bolts on how to go about finagling an Indie career.

I figured out where to go and who to hire from your wonderful posts and then I self-published. I unpublished it a few months later, but once I figured out how to self-publish, the desire to continue stuck. So I tried again, this time with a related series and a new book.The next book stuck and that is the first book in my Courtlight series.

So thank you Lindsay! Without that start, I wouldn’t be where I am today with eight books and two manuscripts, over 50,000 sales, and a career that I couldn’t be happier with.

It looks like you’re a fan of writing in series. What are your thoughts on pricing when it comes to a series? Have you experimented much? Any strategies that work better than others?

Series is something I fell into. I can’t seem to write a first book without thinking of entanglements and back-stories and plot devices, which just expand the world and push me to question why? Why did this happen? What’s his story? What was this place like two hundred years ago? So I’ve been expanding my world further with each book I write.

My primary marketing concept for my first series was a pricing ladder. Again, something I learned from you. I currently have five books in Courtlight and the books scale up in price from Free to $0.99, $2.99, $3.99, and $3.99. This gives my readers a way to taste the series and even save on the second book before they dive in for the entire thing. For a long time, I’ve read series that are epic arcs of ten to twenty novels from the likes of Robert Jordan and Michelle Sagara I don’t intend to go that long but I do plan to push the envelope and I see no harm in giving my readers a break on price for the first couple of books.That pricing, however, only works when you have a good number of books to put on the different rungs. So by necessity, my second series is different. There are two books out and they’re currently both $2.99. That series found a broader market which seems comfortable at that price point, so I leave it. I do however do consistent promotions with Book One where I discount it to $0.99 and even Free to give more readers a chance to grab the first book.Overall the pricing ladder has worked for me and I’m contemplating trying new options as we go into the new year, primarily focusing on compiling more boxed sets, and testing those. Indies always have to be innovative after all!

You’re doing all the right things (awesome covers and blurbs) when it comes to selling books. Do you have any suggestions for other authors?

If you’re serious about trying to sell a series and want to make this work I would say: A) Have a consistent series look, B) Brand your books to your genre not what you think your genre should be, C) Stand out with quality, and D) Hire out if you can’t do it yourself.

I’ll be the first to say, that investing money into your books that you may not have or don’t want to part with can be tough. But it’s that investment which can pay dividends. At the same time, you don’t need the most expensive cover artist or the most expensive formatter to make your books shine.

My first two covers: Red Madrassa and Sworn To Raise, I paid between $120-$350 for the cover design. That was a fair price, but for someone who wanted to put out product at a fast pace as they built a fanbase, it quickly became prohibitive. So I learned to do my own cover design. Each time I design my cover I’m saving money. Not just in the initial eBook design but also for subsequent Audiobook and Print covers. In addition to the fact that I can make my own promotional graphics, social media graphics, and swag (buttons/bookmarks). As to how I became proficient, I put time and effort into studying Photoshop. I learned everything on my own with tips from lovely self-published authors like S.M. Reine and Dannika Dark who shared their knowledge and their love of Youtube tutorials. But you don’t always have to do everything yourself.For instance, formatting is another way to save money. But I personally find formatting tedious, so I hire that out to places like Polgarus Studios (really great prices!) and Streetlight Graphics (gorgeous design work).

Above all, whatever you decide to do with your own self-published books, be sure to always be flexible and willing to experiment. If one look for your series or books isn’t working, change it up. If you have an editor who books five months out for an appointment and you need one who can fit you in consistently every two months, find a new one. Flexibility is key in the way you present yourself and the way you adapt to the market.

You released a Book 1 in a new series back in March, and it’s been selling well, appearing near the top of your category lists, the whole time. Any thoughts on how you’ve done so well with that one?

The book Lindsay is referring to BLADES OF MAGIC, Book One in the Crown Service series. Blades was a risk for me. It was a story I desperately wanted to tell and I even wove in references to it in my previous series, but it wasn’t one I was sure my readers would take to. I feared that the entire concept of the series was too different from my original series. From the personalities of both characters to the design of the covers, they were just worlds apart. What if my readers loved the first series so much, that they wouldn’t take to a second at all?

In addition to the normal fears of doing something different, I was stepping out of my comfort zone in another way. I was putting a diverse protagonist front-and-center on my cover, come hell or high water, and I was making her black in the books. Not ambiguous. Black. And for me, that was a risk. I had just began to grasp the brand of who I was, a young adult author who wrote high fantasy books. To expand that brand to be a young adult author who wrote diverse high fantasy books seemed a risk. There were very few successful self-published as well as traditionally-published speculative fiction authors that I know of who wrote books with diverse characters as their protagonist and had those characters represented on their covers. That last part is very important. (You can see a list of a few of those authors here.)

I can still count a list of them off on my hand for self-pub and trad pub. It wasn’t a very comforting thought.
But I wanted to be different and I wanted a darker-skinned young woman as the main protagonist of my second series. I say want, but she didn’t appear in my mind in any other way. I had no choice about who she was, but I did have a choice about how I would present her. So when I designed the Crown Service covers I made sure that she was true to her racial background on the cover as she was within the pages.

With trepidation I published. Thinking this book would flop as my first book did. I was wrong. In the first month, the Crown Service series outsold the first six months of the Courtlight series. Part of that was due to the fact that over time I’d built a larger fanbase but part of that was just the fact that a new host of readers were connecting strongly to a character I didn’t think they would. Seven months after the release of Blades Of Magic, I released BLADES OF ILLUSION on October 18th. The reception was phenomenal. I managed to get to #440 overall in the Amazon store and get some screenshots that had me positively screaming. I honestly believe that I’m rocking the charts with this series because I’ve created something different in a genre that is well known for staying the same.

You seem to be trying quite a few things when it comes to marketing. I was particularly curious about your option where readers can text a number for updates on new releases. Can you tell us how you got signed up for that, what it costs, and if anyone is using the service yet?

The service I use to TEXT readers on their mobile phones when I have a new release is by a company called Textmarks. I first noticed it when I came across the option on Cassia Leo’s page. I thought it was an innovative way to contact customers who may prefer an option to email and have a second way to reach my fanbase if an apocalypse happened and my mailing list dissipated. I’ve had the Textmark service for 3 1/2 months now. They make it very easy to sign up with one month free and live customer service reps to answer your questions. There are multiple plans, based on the consumer’s needs. For $49.00 a month, I can assign up 5 keyword groups and send out 1,250 messages (each recipient counting as a message).That is the smallest plan they have and for that reason I think it’s overkill for a normal author but I’ll get into that later. In principle, it’s very simple. I assign each group a separate keyword, for instance I can do AUDIOFANS and EBOOKFANS. I then pass out the keyword and the text code, and have readers text the number to sign up for messages from my account. The process itself is not something customers are unfamiliar even if they don’t always realize it. For instance, I’m signed up for text messages from AMC Movie Theaters and they send me coupon codes for discounts on popcorn.

I don’t know how well the service works for AMC but for an individual author I’m not so sure it’s worth it. I was waiting until I had concrete data from my latest release before making a decision. In the twelve weeks that I’ve had the service only 49 individuals signed up for the text plan. In comparison, my mailing list (which this was supposed to be a supplement plan to at best and a fallback plan at worst) has thousands. This also means I’m paying a $1 a month for every person that’s currently signed up for my plan. In addition to that, I don’t have data on who signed up or why. It might be a case of readers only liking one of my series over the other, but my release day open rate for the texts (I used a coded URL) is only 15 out of 49. When I’m paying for a service like this, I don’t like those odds. So I’ll be signing off from the plan before my next billing cycle.

~

Thanks for checking out the interview, everyone! You can visit Terah’s website for more information or check out her books on Amazon. She’s also on Twitter and Facebook. The first novel in her Courtlight series, Sworn to Raise, is currently free.

Why Self-Published Author Kendra Highley Chose a Publisher for Her New Book

| Posted in Interviews / Success Stories |

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I’m still out of the country, but I’ve scheduled an interview to post for you guys.

Kendra Highley visited the blog last year when she discussed why she chose to walk away from her agent and self-publish her Matt Archer: Monster Hunter series. Since then she’s published three novels on her own and has a new one coming out. The new one isn’t self-published, however; it’s coming out via Entangled Publishing.

I thought I’d ask her back to the blog to see why she went with a publisher for this one and what Entangled was able to bring to the table. For those thinking of going the “hybrid” route (publishing some titles on your own and some with a press), you should be interested in this interview.

Hybrid Publishing with Kendra Highley

Kendra Highley SidelinedWelcome back to the blog, Kendra. Let’s just right in here! Your new novel, Sidelined, is out now, through Entangled Press. What made you decide to go with a publisher for this one?

The book in question, Sidelined, is in a different genre than Matt Archer. Instead of urban fantasy/adventure, it’s contemporary YA, dealing with some pretty hefty themes. I felt that it would be better served to have the benefit of an editorial staff known for YA and romance, along with the marketing and exposure they could provide.

Did you approach Entangled or did they see that your MA books were doing well and contact you?

My cousin Kary Rader, also an author, follows the Entangled blog and saw a call for contemporary YA sports romance. She knew about Sidelined and thought it would a great fit.  I hadn’t read through the book for a few months, but decided to give it a shot and submitted it. Entangled contacted me with interest two days later. When I got the initial email from my editor, I put my phone on the counter and backed away with my hand over my mouth, unable to tell my family why I was so freaked out.  It was an amazing feeling.

I seem to remember quite a few tweets where you mentioned going back and forth on edits. Can you tell us what that process was involved and if you preferred it to hiring your own editor?

I really enjoyed working with the editors at Entangled. They are super knowledgeable and brought out elements of the book I’d never even considered. It was an intensive process, with quick deadlines and multiple levels of review, but I learned so much that I can bring into my other work, both self-published and traditionally published. It’s fun to craft my own destiny with the self-pubbed books, and my editor for Matt Archer, Cassandra Mitchell, is awesome to work with, too. Still, I think I gained a lot by working with the editorial staff at Entangled. Plus, they are a really progressive publisher. Their royalty structure is closer to self-publishing and they allow unagented authors to submit manuscripts. They just want to find great stories and are willing to be a little unconventional.

As far as marketing and promotion goes, what is Entangled bringing to the table?

The biggest piece is wide reach. Most of the editors and publicists at Entangled have thousands of Twitter followers, and the Entangled blog is very widely read. Plus, they have a cadre of extremely loyal readers. Despite my own success with Matt Archer, this was a completely new area for me, so the built in audience was very appealing.  Still, the elements of this book launch and one of the Matt Archer launches are pretty similar: Cover reveal, blog tour, release announcements, giveaways.  And, working with a publisher, most of those costs are paid for, versus having to fund them myself. Sure, my cut per book is less, but they assume the risk, which allows me to focus on writing and reaching out to readers.

You’re answering these questions for me before the book has been released, but at this point, do you think you’d do another book with a publisher?

Absolutely. In fact, I have two projects I hope to submit to Entangled over the next year or so. It’s been a great experience.  For me, I think it helps to have separate approaches for my two different genres. For my more UF/mystery focused YA, I’ll probably continue to self-publish, but for my contemporary YA, traditional publishing seems like a better fit.

Before you go, why don’t you tell us a bit about the book and where folks can grab it?

Sidelined is the story of Genna Pierce, a basketball star who desperately wants to leave home to play for a college team. Now a senior, her years of hard work are finally paying off. University scouts are interested, and the guy she’s been drooling over for years is suddenly interested, too. However, when her team goes to the state tourney, tragedy strikes and Genna’s dreams come crashing down.  In a tailspin, she turns to the only thing that eases her pain: Vicodin.

You can check out the full description on my website and it’s available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and iTunes.

Thanks so much for having me on your blog!

Tips for Getting a Movie Deal as an Independent Author (with Lisa Grace)

| Posted in Interviews / Success Stories, Tips and Tricks |

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It seems that most authors love the idea of seeing their books on the big screen — and the extra income from selling book rights to a movie producer doesn’t hurt either. But is a possibility as an independent author? Sure, you say, sell enough books and they’ll come knocking on your door, but do you have to sell zillions and become as famous as Amanda Hocking or Hugh Howey before someone approaches you?

Well, it happened to indie author Lisa Grace. She not only sold the rights to her books, but the first one is in production now. She’s here today to give some tips for those authors who’re hoping to see their characters being played by their favorite actors.

Getting a Movie Deal as an Independent Author with Lisa Grace

Can you tell us about what made you decide to self-publish and the events that led up to the movie deal?

DIGITAL CAMERAThanks Lindsay for having me as a guest on your blog. I decided I would self publish on May 23rd, 2011 as an ebook after getting some interest from an agent who said he would shop around my book. Seven months later he tells me he was too busy with other clients and never got around to approaching anyone, but he thought it was good and he didn’t want me taking it to someone else. Luckily, I’d been writing book 2 in the meantime. So I self published them as ebooks only seven weeks apart. I made it to #1 on the Amazon sub genre lists for teen horror in the Kindle store, which is where two movie producers saw. it. It was bumped to #2 by the 1983 book , A Woman in Black which was being made into a movie starring Daniel Radcliffe, AKA Harry Potter.

Movie producers do look at the best seller genre lists to find books that interest them. I went with the one I felt offered the best chance of getting the movie made. Motion Picture Pro Studios.

A few months later they sent me the contract, I hired an entertainment lawyer, and a few months after that, I had signed an option agreement for the first two books in my series. Angel in the Shadows, Book 1 is currently free at all major ebook retailers if your readers want to check it out. Motion Picture Pro Studios “exercised” the option, and the project is currently in development.

angel-in-the-shadows

I think people assume you have to be a mega-seller to attract these guys. Do you mind sharing how many books you were selling at the time? Or perhaps how visible your books were (Top XX at Amazon?)?

Being at the top in your genre is important. They have to feel passionate about the project, and feel it will translate well to film. I’m very much a mid lister. I’ve made it to #13 in the free ranks back in the days when you could move 12,000 a day outside the romance genre. I’m not sure that’s as easy to do now. I slid in fairly high to the paid ranks coming off of free, but never stayed on op top of all Kindle books for very long. At that time, the only place my ebooks were available was on Amazon. I only opened distribution this year in December 2012, to more book stores.

Do producers always find your book on their own and come to you, or are you aware of any ways a moderately successful indie author can get in contact with them and suggest their title?

Producers are like book agents. They get pitched to all the time. They want to find projects on their own, and do. After all, it has to be something they feel passionate about. Shoot. I wish I could get them to be interested in all my books! I’d love to have everything I write optioned for a movie, but that isn’t likely to happen.

Every deal I know about, it’s been either a book agent pitching it to a director (who will read it first) or the producer reading the book and loving it.

You seem to have gained quite a bit of insight into how and why books get picked up. What genres or types of stories are more likely to attract producers?

It depends on what the producers like. Some skip around different genres, some stick with one. They’re just people who know what they like and what they can do with a project. Your best bet is to write a good book that makes it to the top of its genre so those who might be interested find it and read it. Also, some authors do have producers coming back to them again and again, because they’re writing books that will translate well to film.

In your guest post, you suggested writing, “A Simple Story in Seventy to One Hundred Scenes.” Can you talk a little about that for my audience here?

There are certain authors who get their books optioned all the time, because they write books that will translate well to film. By the way, you won’t be hearing from them, because they’ve got a wonderful second income coming in from optioning their stuff, and they don’t want you moving in on their market. I’ve heard from many of them privately.

One idea that helps is the “man in the box” type of writing, where scenes are set in one location. It makes a movie cheaper to shoot. Most movies are not huge blockbusters, and costs are a consideration.

Write a novel that can be broken down into seventy to one hundred scenes. Most movies are only going to be between an hour and half to two hours. There is a market for selling movies to TV and cable, after commercial release, and if your story takes longer to tell, your chances of getting a deal decrease. These suggestions come directly from producers (the money people with all the power, they sign the checks) that I’ve had discussions with.

You’ll get authors and scriptwriters who aren’t selling their stuff who disagree (I know because I’ve heard from them too), but I think I’ll listen to the ones signing the checks and so do the authors who are getting one book after the other optioned.

If there’s any parting advice you’d like to share, please feel free to do so.

Write the best book you can. Then write the next one. “See” your books as a movie in your head. Do think about costs when planning out settings. For instance, setting a book on a sinking cruise ship is a lot more expensive than setting it in a forest.

Watch movies in your genre (not block busters, but those with budgets of 2mil to 25mil) and take them apart scene by scene, so you get an idea of what a novel would need to include to translate well. I’d also suggest praying as it can’t hurt. Enjoy the journey because even if your book is optioned, it may never make it into development, and if it makes it into development, it may not make into pre-production. Movie making is a loooong process, so once you sign your option, kiss your baby goodbye, and start working on the next one.

~

Visit Lisa and check out all of her work on her website, or say hi on Twitter and Facebook. You can also hop over to Amazon or Smashwords to grab copies.

How Sue London’s First Novel Became an Amazon Bestseller in a Couple of Weeks

| Posted in Interviews / Success Stories |

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Is it still possible to hit it big with a first novel? To toss that puppy out there and see it rocket to the tops of the Amazon sales charts? Well, if you’ve been following the blog, you know the answer is yes, since I recently interviewed Leeland Artra who’s been having great success with his first fantasy novel. Today we have another success story.

Sue London, one of the first people I followed on Twitter (she complimented my Goblin Brothers stories, so naturally I liked her right away), released her first novel a few weeks ago and asked me to retweet one of her announcements. I did so and bought a copy (hey, it was only 99 cents). Through Twitter, I’m aware of a lot of new authors who are publishing first novels and, frankly, not much happens for most of them. Imagine my surprise when I checked Sue’s Amazon sales ranking a week or two later and her book was in the 300s. As I write this introduction, it’s sitting at 123 and has this nifty tag that shows up in a search: sue-london-historical-romance-amazon
#1 Best Seller in Historical Romance. Not bad, eh?

But how did she do it? Sue’s agreed to spill the beans for us today, so let’s get this interview started!

A few weeks after release, you’re rocking the Amazon sales charts with your first novel, Trials of Artemis. What did you do to get the ball rolling in the first place?

First off, thanks so much for having me come on your site for an interview. Your blog has been my “go to” source for self-publishing information and it’s very exciting to be able to contribute. Also, don’t forget that I’m still waiting for more Goblin Brothers books! Just wanted to put that out there.

This is all pretty unexpected so I can’t provide advice as much as express gratitude. This is one case where I can say “It’s not me, it’s you.” It’s Twitter buddies, Facebook buddies, and readers who were willing to give me a chance. But let me tell you my story in the hopes that there’s a pony for you in all this mess somewhere.

suelondon_trialsofartemis

It all started with an idea for a Regency romance series about three girls who formed a “boys club” growing up, because they thought boys have more fun. They named their club (and therefore the series) The Haberdashers. There are twelve books scoped out for the series at this point. My original intention was to wait until at least book three before doing my big promotional push. I know how series readers are because I am one. We go very quickly from “I LOVE YOU, I WANT TO READ ALL THE BOOKS!” to “Who are you again?” when there has been a gap. So let me tell you what I didn’t do – engage a PR group, do any press releases, schedule a blog tour, intensely research what in the heck I should be doing to release a book. My plan was to do all that for the release of “Fates for Apate.” Sure, I’ve been picking up tricks over the years since I always intended to publish (specifically self-publish), but didn’t put any extra effort into “mastering the book release” prior to releasing book one.

All that aside, my first degree is in marketing so I couldn’t help doing a leeetle bit of it. I mean, no one wants their first book to bomb. But I was going to be delighted if I broke even on the expenses within the first couple of months (i.e., selling about 650 copies). Honestly, I thought my goals were insanely high and unrealistic. Heck, I’d gotten one of the major tenants of the industry “wrong.” I’d just spent ten years building a brand identity on the web of being a sci-fi geek (is it a brand when it’s really who you are?) and here I was publishing a Regency romance. People got whiplash doing a double-take. No one in my circles could believe I’d written a romance, in real life or online. Not exactly the best launching pad. Apparently you can get a lot “wrong” and still get it “right.”

To answer your question, though, what did I do to get the ball rolling?

  1. Set up websites specifically for Author and Series a few months in advance. I already have a lot of blogs and websites, and I wanted something that was specific to publishing so that people didn’t have to wade through ten years of me pontificating (main blog), or stacks of my short stories and writing samples (writing blog), just to get to what they really wanted – to purchase my books or read about the series.
  2. Purchased a rockin’ book cover a few months in advance. Seriously, this may have been the most important thing that I did. It is by Kim Killion at the aptly named Hot Damn Designs. The cost was about $135 and worth every penny. THANK YOU, KIM! Now I need to get a spine and back because this puppy is going to paper.
  3. Purchased 100 “cover cards” from VistaPrint (large postcard size) a few months in advance and offered them autographed as an incentive for pre-purchases. Also handed them out to anyone who would stand still and left stacks of them around the Virginia Festival of the Book. They aren’t cheap, about 40 cents each. Adding envelopes and postage makes this about a $55 investment. But they are shiny and pretty and made everything more “real.”
  4. Set up a Twitter account for the series at @haberdashersfic.
  5. Pestered my twitter buddies (I tweet at @cmdrsue) about the fact that my book was coming out soon and they should consider pre-purchasing a copy.
  6. Remembered that I have a Facebook page and posted some updates (which also auto-post to Twitter).
  7. Remembered I have a writing blog and made some posts about finishing a book and getting it to publication. Those automatically posted to Twitter and G+.

Then late on the night of May 12, 2013 I clicked publish on Amazon.com. And waited for the book to hit the store. And then I bought a copy. At that point I thought it and my five pre-sales (thank God for friends and family, right?) might be the extent of my publishing story. By the end of day one (May 13th) I’d sold 31 copies in the Amazon store and another one on my website. It had begun.

Marketing efforts in that first week included:

  1. Setting up my Amazon author page.
  2. Setting up my Goodreads author page.
  3. Pestering my friends on Twitter some more.
  4. Sending a Trials of Artemis mug to the first person to do a review. (She had no idea that I’d even been talking about giving out a prize because she’s not in my Twitter circles, so it was interesting to have the first person be someone completely unknown to me.)
  5. Posting announcements for my “fans” on Facebook (most of whom are STILL waiting for a sci-fi book).
  6. Posting announcements on a bunch of my blogs and having Blogger push those to my G+ circles. Made sure to include the blog that has a Page Rank of 4 from Google.
  7. Going to the follower lists for some of my favorite historical romance authors and having @haberdashersfic follow those followers.
  8. Reached out to some other writers asking for a retweet. Since I’ve been a good citizen for awhile (interviewing writers at Writing Insight, retweets, etc.) I got that love back – including retweets from yourself plus top romance authors Diane Farr, Danelle Harmon, and Lauren Royal.
  9. Taking a page from Amanda Hocking and reaching out to some romance readers with a polite direct tweet (you can’t do this too much or you’ll get blocked):
  10. Taking the opportunity (whenever it looked like it would fit) to post a link to my book as a response to super-popular people on Twitter. I know at least one sale came from responding to Jen Yates (@cakewrecks) when she asked her followers what was up. I said my book was up <link> and got one sale and follower that I know of. Maybe more.
  11. Asking @erinscafe to livetweet the novel because she had done that to hilarious effect on some other romance novels. I knew it would be a snarkfest and wanted it to be. Ended up getting props from her followers because I joined in on making fun of the book. Sales jumped by almost 100% that night. Some of Erin’s tweets:
    • Our story begins in London, 1815. Our heroine: Jacqueline Walters, but you can call her Jack. #haberdashers
    • Jack decides to ditch the ball, and sneaks into the host’s library. I’m pretty sure this is trespassing. Very least, it’s rude. #haberdashers
    • An arm slips around her from behind in the darkened library. “What are you reading?” Someone’s asking for a knee to the groin. #haberdashers
    • “Who in the bloody hell are you?” Ah, the stranger in the library is NOT a rapist, just a guy who grabbed the wrong boob. #haberdashers
    • We’re at another ball, because in 1815 there was no Twitter and people were bored. Jack’s dance card is empty. #haberdashers
    • I would 100% be playing cards and smoking cigars in the stables in 1815, reputation be damned.#haberdashers
    • Jack points out that she’d really rather not have a husband who grabs strangers’ boobs in libraries. Good call, Jack. #haberdashers
    • Gideon and Jack almost kiss while dancing the waltz. That Footloose town had it right; dancing is a gateway sin. #haberdashers
    • Giddy was just described as a “thoroughgoing rogue,” and I’m pretty sure that’s going to be the name of my next band. #haberdashers

And that pretty much describes my big marketing “push.” The only other thing I’ve done since then is join some romance groups on Facebook. Oh, and struck a chord with another group by making my first gratitude post about Trixie Belden. They have invited me to their Clubhouse. As a huge Trixie Belden nerd I think this is awesome.

At the moment “Trials of Artemis” is selling about 600 copies a day. The only explanation I have for that is… people seem to like it. Not the most insightful analysis but there it is.

I’m always hoping to find new advertising venues that actually work out (i.e. authors make as much from sales as they paid for the ad). Did you do any advertising or has this all been word of mouth?

Nope, no paid advertising for this beyond purchasing the postcards from VistaPrint. I’ll probably try some of these when “Fates for Apate” comes out. My research will undoubtedly include reading through your website so I wish I had some really good advice to give myself right here. I have used GoogleAds for my CafePress site and that was usually somewhere around a break-even.

99-cent novels have fallen out of favor with some folks in the indie community of late (possibly because, last year, Amazon supposedly started weighting the popularity charts to favor higher priced titles). Why did you choose that price point, and how much of an impact do you think it’s had on sales?

I chose 99-cents because I’m a 99-cent novel person. I read voraciously and there’s no way I could do that with typical list-price books. So I look for 99-cent and free ebooks because there are a lot of great writers I’ve never heard of, and even a lot of big houses/authors have sales to convince us to try them. It stretches my reading budget. For me as a reader I have to LOVE your books in order to spend more than 99-cents. But if I do love your writing then I get in this weird “PRICE IS NO OBJECT!” place. Seriously, someone could probably price the first one at 99-cents and the rest at a thousand dollars and I’d be like “THAT’S FINE, I’LL GET ANOTHER JOB, I NEED ALL THE BOOKS.” You know, if they really resonated for me. Some sort of modern-day G.K. Chesterton or something.

Regarding my own sales, I have to assume that the 99-cent price point didn’t hurt. In this particular genre (Regency) there are still a lot of 99-cent books and the top ten list for Regency is usually full of them. So 99-cents is probably just a ticket to get into the show. Because I can’t contact readers from Amazon directly I’m not sure if the price point made a difference to them. (Now you can really tell I studied marketing. Without the datapoint we can’t really draw a conclusion.)

It was always my intention to price the first one in this series at 99-cents and the rest at 2.99. (The next two are already available for pre-order at that price, plus if you pre-order you get an autographed cover card!) The first one for all of my series will probably be 99-cents but I’m not sure. (Yes, there are many other series, trilogies, and books planned. Some of them will be sci-fi and fantasy.) As I walk around and talk to more people about pricing it amazes me how many readers say they don’t mind when books are $8+. Thank God for them, someone needs to keep the major publishing industry going. But I don’t want to pay that for the majority of my reading, and by my little own lonesome I don’t need that margin for what I charge. Volume can often trump margin anyway.

Did you find that once you sold X number of books, Amazon’s algorithms kicked in and have helped you rise to the top (and stick there)? Or are you still doing a lot of promotion?

I know that you’ve written about the algorithms but here’s where I admit that… I haven’t really been paying attention. I can’t explain the rise to the top, but I’m sure that once I achieved the top ten it became a phenomenon of “success breeds success.” Since I read on the Kindle app I know that they constantly push the best-sellers at you. That means all the Regency readers started seeing my book pushed in their face every time they turned their Kindle or app on. Again, the cover was a great investment because at the very least it looks professional. At best it signals “This book is HOT. And brainy.” (They ARE in a library after all.)

I am not doing a lot of promotion. I blog, I tweet, I Facebook. I do interviews if asked. But if what you’re really getting at is “how did you manage to be so successful with your first book?” my honest answer is “I have no clue. If I did then I would do it over and over again. And teach others how to as well.” Seriously, I would take you with me on that magic carpet ride, but if there is an answer in all of this I don’t know what it is. Maybe the stars aligned. Maybe I had some karma points to redeem. Maybe, just maybe, it’s the power of nice. But I can’t point to anything and say “Yep, that’s it right there. That’s the answer.”

Something is working, though. It keeps creeping up the bestsellers lists. Currently at #130 for all of Amazon so it’s possible that “Trials of Artemis” will break the Top 100 before it’s done. Back on May 19th when I was #52 in Regency and #3,392 overall (and feeling pretty good about myself for those numbers) I was smack-talking Dan Brown on my Facebook page because it was funny to act like I could take the #1 spot. Now it’s moved from funny to intriguing…

All of the reviews have certainly been helpful, too. I don’t know how you get those other than wait. Ok, you could ASK for them, but is that really the same? Only one of them is from someone I know because I *didn’t* want to ask people I knew to review it. Right now there are 15 on Amazon.com (average 4.9), 2 on Amazon.co.uk (average 4.5), and 5 ratings/2 reviews on Goodreads (average 4.0).

Do you have any parting tips you’d like to offer to new authors who will be launching a book soon?

My biggest fear is beginning to believe that because this turned out well that I know something. I don’t. I’m grateful that so many people have helped me out in ways both large in small. A retweet here, a nice review there. Someone trying out a new and unknown author for the first time. But there are some things that are common pointers in the profession so I can reiterate them.

  1. Be nice. And remember that part of being nice is not always looking for something for yourself. When I started retweeting links for my favorite romance authors it wasn’t with the thought “because in three years I WILL WRITE A ROMANCE BOOK AND I WANT YOU TO RETWEET ME.” I was just being nice because I liked them. And being nice also means that when you step over a boundary and someone calls you on it that you graciously apologize. It doesn’t have to be a boundary that you expected to encounter or even deem worthy. Would you rather be proven right or sell books? The answer is sell books. When in doubt, be nice.
  2. Be professional. Get a great cover. Get great editing. Meet your obligations. And from a behavior standpoint, being professional is actually just being nice in a business suit. (Not an actual business suit but, like, emotionally.)
  3. Be clever. Think about what could be a fun or funny promotion. I have no idea what the ultimate impact of @erinscafe’s livetweet was but it was clever and fun. People enjoyed that I was laughing along with them. I can’t find the tweet right now but someone commented “more authors should be like you!” I also think Amanda Hocking’s direct marketing approach of contact on Twitter was clever. I still remember when I received the tweet because it was nice enough (see? nice?) that I was like “sure, I’ll check that out” and clicked on the link. Turned out it wasn’t for me and I didn’t buy it, but obviously a lot of people did. (Yes, I’m talking about this happening before she got famous.) Please note, however, that it wasn’t just that she asked me to check out her book, it was HOW she asked that made me click at the time and remember it later. For that one girl who made me click there have been hundreds if not thousands of solicitations that I’ve ignored. (See? I don’t even remember how many, much less who they were.)
  4. Be yourself. (Or at least the nicest, most professional version of you.) Your book is a product and I hope that it is AWESOME. But people want to connect with people at some point, especially if you are planning to have an ongoing writing career. Sharing something of yourself is a big challenge but people appreciate the little things that make you you. If you share enough little tidbits then everyone can find something they connect to. Some people advise authors to “brand themselves” and “sell themselves” but I’m definitely not in favor of that. I want to brand my books and sell my books, but be myself. That’s how I can get away with being a big sci-fi nerd and write a best-selling Regency romance novel. And you know what? I’ve discovered that a lot of other romance writers are big ole nerds, too.
  5. Bonus tip from Sue: Positive thinking. If there is any magic afoot in any of this it’s the fact that I spend at least 10 minutes every day focused on positive mantras. My inspiration comes from writers like Martha Beck (Finding Your Own North Star) and Barbara Sher (Live the Life You Love). In case you’d like to read those books, too, I set up an Amazon store of the books that motivate me.

Other than that just listen to Lindsay. She’s got the best advice around for self-published authors.

 

Awesome, thank you for your time, Sue!

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