Sunday, December 28, 2014
Self-Publishing: What I've learned,and what I'll do different next time.
In the beginning of November a friend emailed me, asking if I had a holiday story to promote. I responded with a negative. My one holiday short story was no longer available because the publisher had gone out of business.
And then it occurred to me...I had an edited, formatted version of The Santa Drag sitting on my thumb drive, and I owned the rights. What if I found an image on Shutterstock to use as cover art? I could just put it up on Amazon and see what happened.
I chose an image, cropped it, and added text, and by noon that day, the story was live.
There were a couple reasons I only published it on Amazon. I've read that most authors find that's where the majority of their sales come from, so I didn't think I'd lose a lot by skipping other outlets for this trial. Also, I was already too late to send the story out to big review sites - and wasn't sure they'd take a 6000 word short story - and didn't want to waist more time figuring out the formatting. The process was incredibly easy, even though I had a couple false-starts with the cover art and back matter.
The official publication date was 11/10/14, and since then 500 -550 copies have been downloaded, between purchased copies, free promotions, and the review service I use. Seventeen reviews were posted to Amazon since then, and 13 reviews/16 ratings were added to Goodreads. I spent about $125 on the cover art and different promotional strategies, and I've had huge and gratifying support from authors I'm friends with. They've hosted me on their blogs, shared my posts on Facebook, and been generous with their twitter energy. Because the majority of the downloads happened during the free periods, I'm not close to breaking even on the money I spent, but I figure there are 500 people out there with the opportunity to read my work who wouldn't have otherwise seen it.
Hard to quantify the benefit of that, but I hope it's a good thing.
So what have I learned through this process?
#1 I like having control. I enjoyed choosing and making the cover art, and I really like being able to see my sales and KU downloads in real time.
#2 I have some really good friends, and I've appreciated their support over the last couple months.
#3 Between MFRW, Debra at The Book Enthusiast, and Mark Lee at The Masquerade Crew, I have a few tools for promotion that worked and that I'll use again.
I'm going to drill down a little deeper here, because these are some great resources and I firmly believe in sharing what I know in the hopes it'll help someone else. MFRW stands for Marketing for Romance Writers. Founded by Kayelle Allen, the group's focus is on learning marketing and publicity. There's a Yahoo group, a blog, a twitter feed, and a Facebook page where members can interact. I've found the Yahoo group especially useful for connecting with people who are looking for guest bloggers, as well as people who are looking for blog openings. In addition there are some great educational resources, along with a healthy helping of support. You can contact the group for membership, and if you're a published/pre-published author, you're in.
The Book Enthusiast is a book promotional service. Debra organizes cover reveals, blog tours, Facebook takeovers, and a variety of other packages. Her rates are competitive, and whenever I've worked with her she's been unfailingly professional, organized, and friendly. My favorite part is her book review library. For a fee, you can list your book with her, and her readers (she's got about 300 on her review group FB page) can request a free copy in return for Amazon and Goodreads reviews. The Santa Drag is the second book I've listed with her review service, and while I guess you could argue that I'm paying for reviews, I look at it as paying her to promote my work, with book reviews as a byproduct. I also believe I'm building relationships with her readers, which will help me in the long run.
The Masquerade Crew is a blog, a promotion service, and a twitter army - and I'm not even joking. I haven't worked with them much, but to promote my free download days the weekend after Thanksgiving, I arranged for their Basic Package. That got me a post on their blog and a twitter barrage that easily hit triple digits. (Their promotional material claim they'll send out 500 tweets. I'm not sure I got that many - I tried to 'favorite' every one - but I was pretty much blown away by the number I saw.) That first weekend saw the bulk of the free downloads, and I'm sure I wouldn't have had nearly so many without this service.
So what will I do differently?
#1 I'll make use of the Masquerade Crew's twitter army, probably more than once, but organize my own blog tour. While I don't have access to the biggest blogs, I know enough people to put something together.
#2 I'll do more planning, both so I can learn formatting and publish with a variety of outlets, and so I can submit my work to review sites in advance of publication.
#3 I'm signed up for a class in GIMP, so I'll actually know what I'm doing when I make my own cover art.
The next couple projects I have in mind for publication have both appeared in anthologies, and neither is currently available. I want to repeat the process a couple times, to really work out the kinks, because I'm thinking about self-publishing Hell...The Story, my ABNA quarterfinal novel. Self publishing Hell would mean I'd need to hire a developmental editor and a line editor. I'd need to figure out the formatting thing, along with how to apply for a copyright and a myriad of other little details. I need to get a better handle on the up-front costs, but if things work out, I just might pull the trigger.
I'm enough of a realist to see that, while it was fun to be the #1 free download in Amazon's teen/YA category the weekend after Thanksgiving, I'll need to actually sell some copies to make the self-publishing venture worthwhile. I expect my budget to be between $1000 and $2000, and I'll need a business plan before I start. I'll also need a big scoop of luck.
But you know what? I've always been a bit of a gambler...
Have you tried self-publishing, or are you still on the fence? What's worked for you? What hasn't worked? Share your experiences so we can learn from each other.