Self-Publishing Strategies

I Am an Indie Midlister (and That’s Okay)

11 December 2014

From author M.C.A. Hogarth:

Here is my sales graph for November. As many of you have noted before, I never include the labels, which prevents you from knowing just how many units per day those spikes represent.

So I shall tell you that the high point on the graph, over there on the right, is 24.

That’s 24 units sold in one day, and for me that is a spectacular day, and I want to dance for excitement. A good day for me is a day I move 2-4 units a day. A happy day is over 10. Get above 15 and I start wondering if someone has done an article or a review somewhere pointing me out. That 24-unit day, for example, was the day after the PW article went live.

“Well, fine,” some of you may think. “But 2-4 books a day is more books a day than I sell.”

This may be true. But let’s consider this other fact: I have over 50 stories available for sale. If you count all the things I have available as distinct products, it’s probably closer to 100, once you add in the coloring books and children’s books and audiobooks, etc. So do a reset and realize that to move 2-4 units a day, I had to have over 100 different products available for sale. If you have only one or two products for sale and you sell even one a day, you’re already on par with me, if you’re looking at this from an effort standpoint.

. . . .

I do not begrudge my peers their better sales, because they don’t need to fail for me to succeed. This revelation is deeply freeing, because it means I can be thrilled for their successes, and fine with my own more modest accomplishments.

So I am a very solid indie midlister author, who is over the moon when she sells more than five stories a day (of whatever length, in whatever format), and who will probably continue to be thrilled that way for some time to come. I can say that without upset because the profile of the indie midlister is very different from the profile of the trad midlister. For one, I don’t have to worry that I’m not earning enough to justify my next work being made available. If my book makes $10 in a year, no one is going to tell me, ‘sorry, you can’t put your next one up for sale because your last one didn’t do well enough.’ This is a particular relief, because the thresholds for success as a trad author are often painfully high. ‘If this book doesn’t make $40,000 this year, I’m sunk’ is kind of terrifying. I don’t have that fear. I can cheerfully make $10 a month for the rest of my life and the only thing that will happen is that I have $10 a month I wouldn’t have had before.

Plus, every book I sell is populating an algorithm (or ten) that will make it more likely that someone else will see it, and buy it. It’s not like the old death spiral, where every sale is meaningless and will contribute to fewer sales unless you hit a certain threshold. The more I write, and the more I sell, the more likely it is that I will continue to sell.

And here’s the best news of all: I don’t have to be a bestseller to make comfortable money. In the past, if I had wanted to stay home and write books full-time, I had to hope I could sell my books to thousands of people. Now, I can make good money selling to hundreds. And hundreds of people is do-able. It might take some time to get there—I put my first story up on Amazon in 2009, so I’m into year 5 here—but it can be done.

Link to the rest at M.C.A. Hogarth and thanks to Liana and others for the tip.

Here’s a link to M.C.A. Hogarth’s books

One Year: No Regrets

9 December 2014

From author Brenna Aubrey:

One year ago I made two very risky decisions. First, I decided to turn downmultiple offers on my manuscript from traditional publishers and publish it myself instead. Second, I openly blogged about that decision and thesubsequent short-term results.

To say my life has changed in the past year is an understatement. I’m now considering what I thought would be out of my reach for many years—becoming a full time writer and supporting my family on that income alone. Had I chosen to traditionally publish this trilogy, this would not be true, not this year, at least. Perhaps in the long term.

It seems like a dream—an overnight sensation decades in the making. For years and years I wrote only for my own enjoyment, to explore worlds, characters and stories and share those with my friends. It took me a long time to realize that people outside of my inner circle might enjoy the stories too. And they have. All gratitude to my readers. Without them, none of this would be possible.

. . . .

Some Things I’ve learned About The Biz

  • The 99 cent price point is a powerful tool and can be used judiciously to push your other books. I’m not convinced that it is worthwhile or productive to launch a new book at 99 cents, though I see authors do it all the time.
  • Chasing rank is futile and this seems to be a big motivator for authors to go super cheap on their books. Again, rank is not the end-all be all of visibility. Whether you’re at 200 or 1,000, as long as you are showing up on the Hot New Release lists and even the top 100 in your category, your sales will be good. Spiking high for a brief amount of time is not going to help you maintain visibility in the long run.

. . . .

  •  Learn from other authors: Watch what they do and the results they get and don’t be afraid to ask why they are doing something a certain way. But, avoid the danger of comparing yourself to them.
  • It takes time to get traction at the non-Amazon vendors. Be patient and try to connect with those vendors by setting up marketing plans for your new releases. It took me months to get traction on iBooks but now that I have it, it is so worth it!

. . . .

  •  Something I heard at NINC really got me thinking. An editor from a traditional house made the comment, “I know you authors just really want to be read.” To that, astonished authors in the audience replied, “No, we want to be paid to be read.” Do not swallow the line that you should be in this just to be read. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be paid and wanting to earn a living at doing what you love.

Link to the rest at Brenna Aubrey and thanks to Anthea for the tip.

Here’s a link to Brenna Aubrey’s books

Nice Dragons Deserve Numbers

23 October 2014

From author Rachel Aaron:

My favorite thing about the indie publishing community is its transparency. I could not have made my decision to self-publish without the sales numbers and analysis posted by the authors who came before me. As all of you who read my blog regularly know, we are big big fans of paying it forward here at Casa de Aaron/Bach, and so it was a foregone conclusion that I would do the same once my own numbers started coming in.

Below, you will find the complete sales numbers/Kindle Universe borrows for Nice Dragons Finish Last followed by a few conclusions and observations I’ve drawn from my self pub results so far. Please know that I am not doing this to brag. While I did admittedly have a fantastic, amazing, beyond my wildest expectations two months, I’m still nowhere near the top of the publishing heap for either the traditional or self-pub side of the fence.

. . . .

Make no mistake, having an established fan base was a huge help, especially at the beginning. Many of my reviews for NDFL reflect that these were readers who’d followed me over from Paradox or The Legend of Eli Monpress (to these people, I LOVE YOU ALL). But an equal number of the reviews that mentioned how the reader found my book claimed they’d never heard of me before this and only clicked because the cover/blurb/title looked interesting. And while review counting isn’t a precise measure of whether the above sales are from new fans or old, going by my royalty statements, I think it’s a pretty safe bet to say that I don’t have that many die-hard fans who run out and buy my book in the first two months. Many of these sales (and I’d wager the majority of my KU readers) seem to be new fans who found and decided to buy NDFL purely on its own merit, and (as you see from the numbers above) primarily on Amazon.

. . . .

I did practically zero promo for this book. I mean, I did the basics–tweeted the release to my followers, sent an email to my (then very tiny) mailing list, passed out a few eARCs to reviewers I’d worked with in the past–but compared to the relentless promo I did for my Orbit titles, I phoned this release in. Why? Well, frankly I was busy and I didn’t actually expect the book to start selling until there were sequels.

That’s one of the great things about self-publishing, though. There’s no release week. You don’t live or die by getting people into bookstores to buy your book during the 2-3 months it’s actually on the shelves. You have time to let a title sit and gain readership organically.

. . . .

At this point in the release, I was so caught up in writing and other work that I was barely tweeting, yet my book was doing fantastic, and I had no idea why. But I could see the stair steps already. I knew something was going on, and so I started trying to predict when the jumps would come. Sure enough, I was able to predict the jump on July 30th, not through any promo or efforts on my part, but simply by looking at the patterns that had come before. And then, just before the infamous 30 Day Cliff, the stair steps suddenly ended, and I returned to a normal, up and down sales graph.

An inexplicable climb is almost as frustrating as an inexplicable fall. If my books were doing this well, then dammit, I wanted to know why. So my programmer husband and I looked at all the data, and while we can’t presume to put forward any real answers based off such limited information, we did come up with a pretty cool theory, which is that this stair step progression pattern is actually an unwitting picture of the Amazon algorithms at work.

My book came into the Amazon system under pretty much the best possible circumstances. I was an already established author with other, proven titles for sale. I had several positive reviews, including one from a Top 1000 reviewer right off the bat (thank you, Mihir!), I was already selling thanks to the support of my fanbase, and I was competitively priced.

To an Amazon bot, all of that combined makes me look pretty good. On paper, at least, I looked like a winner, and it’s my theory that because of this, I was given extra visibility by Amazon in the form of a fixed ranking. And I don’t mean fixed as in illegally fixed, I mean they stuck my rank on me with digital glue. That’s why my rank didn’t move, because it wasn’t actually my rank. It was a bonus Amazon automatically attached to a book they predicted would do well, but that hadn’t actually been out long enough to get the also-boughts and link ups that actually drive the Amazon sales engine.

. . . .

Because a book’s Amazon rank is a very reliable way of determining how many people see said title while browsing, artificially fixing a new book’s rank within a set spread (say, between Amazon rank 1000 and 900) is a built in way to test how well a title performs against other books who’ve achieved the same rank naturally. It’s sort of like putting an untested horse in a race with a bunch of champions to see how the newcomer’s time compares to the veterans, who are already known quantities. If the new horse keeps up, you move it up to the next race and the next race until it starts to fall behind. At that point, you can make a pretty good guess as to how well that horse will run, or that book will sell.

If you artificially fix a book’s rank at 1000 with all the visibility that entails, and it manages to sell the same or better as the older books around it who’ve achieved the 1000 rank on their own, you know that title can run the race. If a book can’t gain sales commiserate with its artificial rank, then Amazon knows that particular book isn’t ready to be there and drops it back down. I’m pretty sure this is what happened to me at the end, because while I was outselling my daily rank all the way up according to the various rank/sales converters around the internet (ie, the kindle rank to sales calculator would say that a 1200 ranks gets 55-100 sales per day and I was seeing 130), I was not outselling my rank once I reached the 500s, which is when the stair step climb stopped for me. My horse, it seemed, had finally run out.

Link to the rest at Pretentious Title and thanks to Adrienne for the tip.

Here’s a link to Rachel Aaron’s books

UK Publishing Crowd Gathers in London to Discuss Self-Publishing

30 September 2014

From Publishing Perspectives:

Self-publishing — or independent publishing, or author publishing, call it what you will — is a partnership, says Orna Ross, Founder and Director of the Alliance of Independent Authors. “No writer is an island,” she told delegates at the London Book Fair’s latest Tech Tuesday session on ‘the rise and rise of self-publishing,’ chaired by LBF Director Jacks Thomas and held in fashionable Hoxton in east London. “We can’t do it by ourselves. Writers need support — editorial, production, promotion, design…Very few people can do all those things themselves. Writers need to take advice and need to invest, especially in editorial, typically £3,000 to £5,000.”

In essence, this is like a reverse advance, being paid to various freelancers — or a single company operating a platform — the difference being that the author begins earning back straightaway and most likely at a much higher rate than through a traditional house.

. . . .

Representing traditional publishers was David Shelley, Publisher of Little Brown, who had the difficult position of having to defend the status quo, having to point out that large houses have infrastructures and systems in place that may not sound sexy, but can be beneficial to authors.

. . . .

Floating somewhere between both was ghostwriter Andrew Crofts who has written for publishers large and very small. He took things right back to basics with a neat summary of the whole history of storytelling and the book industry. “We went from storytelling around the fire where the audience were the most important people, to a situation where storytellers forgot about audiences, forgot about readers and began to concentrate on pleasing publishers…”

This is where the rot set in, he believes (although he was overstating it, one feels, giving “good panel,” as it were), and eventually created the conditions for self-publishing to emerge, once the tools were there.

What self-publishing has done is to relight the campfire. The glow of the tablet, mobile or laptop screen may have replaced the flames, but the direct engagement with the reader that the storyteller had in the cave has come back in ways that no one would have imagined, thanks to social media.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives and thanks to Larry for the tip.

The Content Flood and Authors Whining

23 September 2014

From from author Bob Mayer on Digital Book World:

Sales are down for most authors. You don’t see blog posts about it or tweets, but it’s a reality. And the reason is simple: there’s more content out there than ever before.

Jon Fine of Amazon calls it a tsunami but at least a tsunami recedes. This is a flood that is going to get deeper and deeper.

Authors United (a misnomer as it represents less than 1% of authors) wraps itself in a cloak of noble intentions. But while some of them certainly do have those, for many it’s an economic quandary. They look at their royalty statements and see less. They also see sales shifting from hardcovers and paperback to digital. Where the contracts they signed award them less than stellar royalties.

The chosen, many of the Authors United, didn’t face much competition at the front table in Barnes and Noble and on the racks at the airport and in other retail outlets for years, and they still don’t. In fact, they face less. It’s mind-numbing to see the same names splayed out in an airport store. Publishers are pouring more coop money than ever before into their big names and not taking chances on lesser names. Tom Clancy has a new hardcover out. Really?  That’s what Authors United is trying to protect?

But in digital, readers are finding new authors. And liking them. Many of them self-published. Bookbub contributes to that. So does the fact that many bestselling indie authors understand the business so much better than the Big 5 and use it to their advantage.

. . . .

So for Authors United to claim they represent freedom of expression and ‘books aren’t a commodity’ is a flat out piece of BS. In fact, Amazon and other digital platforms have indeed democratized publishing. That’s not to say there aren’t storm clouds on the horizon, but it is the reality right now.

I’m sorry some bestselling author’s ten million is now seven million. Actually, I’m not, because many of those authors are extremely clueless about the realities of publishing, being shielded by their agents, who single-mindedly pursue their next advance without considering long-term income via higher royalties.

Link to the rest at Digital Book World

Here’s a link to Bob Mayer’s books

A case of self-publish or be damned?

20 August 2014

From author Michelle Jackson via The Irish Times:

As the paperback edition of my traditionally published novel Six Postcards Home hits the shelves I am monitoring the ebook version which I self-published on Amazon.

I suppose you could say I am one of a new breed, a hybrid author; someone who is traditionally published yet has self-published ebook editions and titles.

The term can be given to authors who publish in a variety of combinations, for example, authors who self-publish first then a traditional publisher prints hard copies after the book has proven successful. Some very talented authors have been picked up this way who received rejection before.

Self-publishing is a liberating process and stands for one-fifth of all ebook sales in the UK. While publishers and Amazon work out their differences in the courts the facts for the self-publishedwriter are simple. Authors earn a 70pc share of sales for self-published ebooks priced over £1.49 and can reach a global audience in the process.

Compare this to the standard percentage of 6pc – 10pc of a traditionally published book bought off the shelf.

. . . .

After the publication of my last novel, I decided to take a break from writing a new novel this year and I wanted to travel to find new inspiration. However, when I received a lot of lovely emails from readers, asking when my next book would be appearing, over coffee one day with fellow authors Niamh Greene and Marisa Mackle, we decided to produce a book of short stories in between our other writing commitments and Irish Girls on Holiday was born.

It seemed to be the perfect way for us to connect with our readers, offering a summer book that would otherwise not have been published. It is also a way for us to introduce each other’s readers to two new authors. We wrote seven stories each and commissioned a cover design. A major benefit of self-publishing was having control of the entire process – setting the publication date, deciding on the cover. And we had a lot of fun in the process.

Link to the rest at The Irish Times

Here’s a link to Michelle Jackson’s books

How Barbara Freethy Became the Bestselling Amazon KDP Author of All-Time

6 August 2014

From The Huffington Post:

Barbara Freethy is a best-selling author with 18 of her books having become New York Times best-sellers including Summer SecretsDon’t Say a Word, and On a Night Like This just to name a few. With over 4.5 million units sold, she is also the bestselling Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing Author of all time.

. . . .

Barbara began her writing career while also working full-time and raising two kids, proving that success comes to those who are willing to work hard despite their circumstances. After receiving a publishing deal with Harlequin/Silhouette, she went on to write for Harper Collins, Penguin and Simon and Schuster and later entered the realm of self-publishing in 2011, releasing backlisted titles on Amazon’s Kindle eBook platform.

. . . .

In 2011, you began self-publishing your backlisted titles. Many of them became instant hits hitting Amazon, Barnes and Noble, The New York Times and USA Today‘s best seller’s lists. What do you attribute this success to?

When I first started self-publishing in 2011, I had no idea the exciting adventure and exhausting journey I was about to begin. I had no expectations. The eBook industry was very, very new. Within six months I was selling thousands of my self-published titles and now three short years later, I’ve had 18 of my books appear on the New York Times Bestsellers list, including one in the #1 spot, and I have sold over 4.5 million units across all retailers. I also just found out that I am currently the Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing Bestselling Author of All Time! So that’s pretty exciting!

To what do I attribute my success? Lots of things. When I started putting out my backlist, I worked really hard to create a Barbara Freethy brand. I made sure that all my covers really fit the tone of my books and were professional in appearance. I tried various covers in the beginning before I settled on a look that fit my particular blend of romance, mystery, and adventure. I knew I had the right look when sales took off. I was also able to release several books within one year, both backlist and new original work, which helped build my momentum.

. . . .

If self-publishing didn’t exist how would this have impacted your career?

I’d probably still be putting out one book a year and worrying about the dwindling shelf space in the print market. I’d also definitely have a lot less money and a lot less opportunity.

Link to the rest at The Huffington Post and thanks to Randall for the tip.

Self Publishing is Real! (Now what?)

28 July 2014

From author Andrew Updegrove:

At some point in the last two years self-publishing became accepted as a real, and even preferable, route over the traditional path. That’s great news, but it’s only the first step. What we need now is for a self-publishing ecosystem to evolve that makes self-publishing a more efficient, enjoyable and effective route for authors of all types.

How best to describe what I mean by that? Well, let’s start by describing what the traditional route looked like during the golden years, and compare it to what the self-publishing experience is like today. Back then, here’s what an author could look forward to in a successful publishing partnership:

1. An advance to tide the author over while the book was written

2. An editor to help her improve her book

3. A proofreader to polish it up

4. A designer to package it appropriately

5. A marketing team to put together and execute an effective marketing plan, including , planning book tours

6. A marketing team to promote the book at trade shows and sign up book stores to take books

7. Reimbursement for book tour expenses

8. A printer

9. A business department to manage the printing, get an ISBN number, do the paperwork to get the product into all the right distribution channels, and then manage the delivery, sales, and returns

10. A book-keeper to plot sales against the advance, and forward royalties on regular, if lengthy, intervals

Now let’s look at the current state of the self publishing world and see how an author would go about handling the same needs. The following services are readily available in the marketplace:

2. An editor to help her improve her book

3. A proofreader to polish it up

4. A designer to package it appropriately

. . . .

So what can’t an author obtain in the open market? That would be the following:

1. An advance to tide her over while the book is written

6. A marketing team to promote the book at trade shows and sign up book stores to take books

7. Reimbursement for book tour expenses

. . . .

Happily, with over a billion English-speaking people in the world, an author can be very successful without ever approaching the book store channel at all. This is a huge and empowering change in the publishing landscape, without which nothing would have really changed.

. . . .

So here’s what I think needs to evolve so that authors – and readers – can enjoy a robust marketplace of quality, creative work:

1. A more ordered marketplace whereby authors can find and purchase the quality services they need.

2. A new breed of service providers that provides real and savvy marketing value, rather than people who just go through a punch list of often outmoded standard items (the most notoriously useless of which is the press release, which isn’t even worth lining a parrot cage with).

Link to the rest at Andrew Updegrove: Tales of Adversego

Here’s a link to  Andrew Updegrove’s books

Why I’ve switched to self-publishing

24 July 2014

From author Diana Kimpton via An Awfully Big Blog Adventure:

It wasn’t an easy decision to make. I knew I already had two publishers eager to see my first novel for older readers. I knew that if I went with one of them, I’d be likely to get a good advance and good sales.

But I also knew that the world of publishing was changing fast. Self publishing was now a viable option – I’d already tried it with two backlist titles so I knew what was involved. And I also knew that There Must Be Horses was the best book I had ever written. Did I want to hand it over to someone else or did I want to stay in control?

In the end, I decided to do it my way, and I published There Must Be Horses myself in October 2012. The ebook came first, closely followed by a print-on-demand print version and a few months later by a short print run organised and distributed by Troubador because I’d discovered that I hated handling orders.

Almost two years on, I’m convinced I made the right decision. I probably would have sold more copies initially with a traditional publishing deal, but I make more per book so I don’t mind. Despite being self-published, the book has been reviewed in PONY magazine and The School Librarian, and it’s still selling steadily, often featuring in the best selling list for its genre. (It’s topped it once or twice.)

. . . .

Would I do it again? Now’s a good time to ask that as I’ve just had the latest in my Pony-Mad Princess series, published traditionally. On the plus side for the traditional route, the advance for Princess Ellie’s Perfect Plan was very welcome. I’ve enjoyed working with a very pleasant bunch of people and the final book looks good. On the minus side, I’ve had to give up the rights to my book for many years to come. I’ve missed the fun and satisfaction of self-publishing and, right now, I’m missing the instant access to sales figures that I get when I use Kindle Direct Publishing and Createspace.

That’s why I’ve decided to stick with self-publishing for the foreseeable future.

Link to the rest at An Awfully Big Blog Adventure

Here’s a link to Diana Kimpton’s books


Why I Left My Mighty Agency and New York Publishers (for now)

21 July 2014

From author Claire Cook via Jane Friedman’s blog:

As the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, “The only thing constant is change.”

I was cruising along, represented by a powerful literary agent from a mighty agency that I both liked and respected, published by a series of big New York publishers that believed in my books and helped me make them better, and receiving advances for my novels that were substantial enough to live well on.

And then the publishing world began to get rocky, just like the music world and the newspaper world and so many others had before it.

I was one of the lucky authors. I had multi-book contracts, I was still being sent on book tour by my publisher and published in both hardcover and paperback, so I was able to put on my blinders and ignore the changes at first.

. . . .

And then, after years of stability and support, it was jolting when a single one of my novels made the rounds through three separate editors, because the first two left the publishing house. I lost count of the in-house publicists disappearing through the revolving door—even their names began to blur.

. . . .

I think they tried hard with the first book, but the things that used to work for traditional publishers trying to break out a book weren’t working so well anymore. I wrote the second book I owed them. And then I found out that their entire plan for this book was to do all the things that hadn’t worked for the first one.

. . . .

And then my editor went off on a three-month maternity leave that would end just before my book came out, leaving her assistant, a very nice young woman a couple years out of college, responsible for the care of my novel. Less than a month before my publication date, I received an email from this very nice assistant telling me she was leaving publishing to start a takeout food business with a friend.

. . . .

Around this time I started receiving emails and calls from booksellers telling me they were having trouble ordering my backlist books that had been published by my last publisher. And then that last publisher went under and was bought out by another publisher who inherited all their titles.

. . . .

Independent self-publishing had taken off and grown into a viable alternative. Authors in situations similar to mine were becoming hybrid authors—both traditionally and self-published. And in this new world, there was little of the cloak and dagger stuff I’d experienced in traditional publishing where everything from money to marketing was kept secret. Indie authors were generously sharing everything they learned to help others on the same path.

. . . .

So the pieces of my new dream started to come together. I would find a way to get the rights to my backlist books reverted, and then I’d republish them with my own publishing company.

. . . .

And then one day on the phone my agent informed me that in order to continue to be represented by this mighty agency, I would have to turn over 15% of the proceeds of my about-to-be self-published book to said agency. Not only that, but I would have to publish it exclusively through Amazon, because the agency had a system in place with Amazon where I could check a box and their 15% would go straight to them, no muss, no fuss.

There was no deal, no sale. There would be no self-publishing assistance, no special treatment from Amazon to give my books an extra push, no marketing. Why would I pay 15% of my profits—forever—simply for the privilege of being represented by a big name agency? And this might well turn out to be representation in name only, since it was made clear to me that the mighty agency’s subagents could not be expected to devote time and energy to selling rights to works that were not traditionally published.

It was wrong, ethically and financially, and I just couldn’t do it. I Googled and searched message boards and was introduced to the term revenue grabbing.

. . . .

I now own seven of my twelve books. I control pricing and promotion, and I can balance my need to earn a living with making my books available to my loyal readers at the best price I can offer them. I can add fresh content and switch excerpts and change covers any time I want. By the time I have ten indie-published books, I think Marshbury Beach Books and I will be doing just fine.

But already I’m happy. Instead of waiting for the next thing to go wrong, instead of feeling like I can’t get close enough to my own career to move it in the right direction, I wake up every day and get right to work.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman and thanks to Alison for the tip. This post is an excerpt from Claire’s book, Never Too Late.

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