So far this week I’ve covered why people might want to self publish (and when they shouldn’t), and I’ve offered a step-by-step guide to the process. One big question remains—how can you turn a self-published book into a success story?
Since I just released my books, I can’t claim success yet. If you want to follow along with my story, I’ll be reporting updates on my personal blog on Wednesdays.
In the meantime, I can tell you my plan. First though, some comments from experts:
On the Behler Blog, Lynn Price acknowledges changes to the industry, but offers a warning to self-publishers: “The big advance money is drying up and the big guys aren’t buying the kinds of books they did years ago.… [However] It’s one thing to heed the call to the battle cry and chant ‘death to publishers!’ and quite another to actually go out and do it. And be successful.”
Self-pub superstar Amanda Hocking adds her own warning: “Traditional publishing and indie publishing aren’t all that different, and I don’t think people realize that. Some books and authors are best sellers, but most aren’t. It may be easier to self-publish than it is to traditionally publish, but in all honesty, it’s harder to be a best seller self-publishing than it is with a house.”
On the other side, Joe Konrath writes adult mysteries. He started in traditional publishing but has become totally gung ho about self-publishing. He sees no reason why anyone would want a traditional publishing contract today. On the other hand, he fully admits that success takes a big dose of luck. He often features guest authors sharing their success stories. These are primarily adult genre authors, but it’s still interesting to see what people do—and often how little difference a big publicity plan makes.
Along with luck, Joe says you need a well-written book, a great cover, a strong blurb describing it, and a good price point. He considers the e-book ideal $2.99, the lowest price at which you can get Amazon’s 70 percent royalty rate (it drops to 30 percent for cheaper books). You can judge my covers for yourself and check out the description and sample chapters of the writing at my Amazon page. Now let’s run some numbers to figure out that price point.
I can price my work as a $2.99 e-book and make $2 per book with Kindle’s 70 percent royalty rate. My traditionally published books are available on the Kindle, but at $5.99 for each of the Haunted series (the paperback price) and $8.80 for The Well of Sacrifice (hardcover price $16). I don’t get many sales that way, but many people complain that e-books are overpriced. (For an explanation of why, check out this post by former agent Nathan Bransford.) With The Eyes of Pharaoh and Rattled, people may be more likely to try the lower-priced books.
POD copies will be priced higher, because of printing costs. I can price Rattled at $7.99 which earns me $.92 for regular sales through Amazon. I can order copies myself for $3.87 to sell directly. The Eyes of Pharaoh is priced a dollar cheaper but actually earns me a little more, because it’s 160 pages versus 260.
Rattled will most likely sell far better as an e-book than in print, because the target audience for romantic suspense, 20-50-year-old women, are big e-book buyers. When I told my agent I had decided to self-publish Rattled, which he’d recently read and been excited about, he said, “Chris—I’m totally with you, and support you on this. Romance writers are doing SO well with e-self, I think you should.” (No, he won’t make money off of me this way now—but he could still negotiate foreign and film rights, should those arise.)
The Eyes of Pharaoh may sell better in print. We’ll have to see. Anyway, I should be making $1-$2 per book, and the books are reasonably priced.
So how to sell them? I have an advantage over new authors in that I already have somewhat of a reputation. I’m certainly not famous, but I do have fans. The main trick is getting the word out about the new work. Fortunately, I already have a wide social network. I’ve been a regional adviser for The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators for eight years and have many friends among the regional advisors across the world and internationally. I have several hundred Facebook friends, two thirds of them children’s book writers or illustrators. I post occasionally on Verla Kay’s Blue Boards, I have a presence on Jacket Flap, Good Reads, and Library Thing. I recently joined a listserv for mystery fans and already got invited to do a guest blog post.
I also have a presence as a speaker/teacher. Next week, I’ll be on a panel and giving a solo talk at the Left Coast Crime convention for mystery writers and fans. I’ll also be hosting a table at the banquet, and I’m planning to give copies of my books to people at my table, with a request that they write a review on Amazon or other sites if they like the book. In April I’ll be speaking at a schmooze meeting and at a conference in Albuquerque, and at a workshop in El Paso. I’ll be teaching at the big SCBWI summer conference in LA next August.
I’ll also follow my usual habit of sending out press releases. Because I live in a small town, I usually get local coverage. I’ve even gotten covered by the paper in Juneau, Alaska, where I went to high school—though I haven’t lived there for more than 20 years (small towns are hungry for news). I send announcements to my two alumni magazines. I often write articles on writing and discuss my work when it’s appropriate as an example of a topic. Some of these articles I offer for free for the publicity.
I’m not trying to make myself sound like somebody special; this is just a realistic look at how a professional writer handles her career. If you have no social network and no time to build one, your book may sit there quietly doing nothing. I can’t make people like my book. I can ask my many writing friends—some of whom owe me favors because I’ve helped publicize their books on my blog or in the articles I write—to post reviews of my new books, mention them on their blogs, or whatever. Social networking doesn’t offer the key to the universe, but it can help get your book off to a good start. Once you have lots of strong reviews, the book may take off on its own. I believe both Amazon and Barnes & Noble have programs to help promote books that have great reviews but poor sales.
Joe Konrath (mentioned above) also insists that to increase sales, you want to take up as much shelf space as possible. In other words, if you have a dozen books available, you’ll sell more—not just because one person may buy all of your books, but because they have more ways to find you. Different people will find different books appealing, but once they’ve tried your work, they may explore farther. Sounds reasonable to me, so I’ll work to get some more romantic suspense published. (A note: I chose to publish my adult work under a different name. The downside is that I have no name recognition for Kris Bock. However, since the adult work would probably be rated PG-13 if it were a movie, I want to separate it from my children’s books.)
I expect sales to start slowly, but hopefully rise steadily. In six months I should have a good idea of whether or not this is working, though it may take several years for sales to build. Here’s a nice success story from author Elizabeth C. Mock: “Less than a year ago, I published my debut novel (the first in a trilogy) and last month I breached 100,000 downloads/sales.” She also notes, “People want good stories and if a story resonates with people, then it will sell regardless of its origins in traditional publishing or self-publishing. If a story isn’t good, it won’t sell.”
In conclusion… I don’t really have a conclusion. I decided to try self-publishing because it fits my needs and my goals—and my abilities—right now. You’ll have to decide if and when it might be right for you. I hope I’ve given some ideas.
Can’t get enough of the topic? Next week, other members of The Spectacle will weigh in. Leave any questions you have on the topic and I’ll try to answer them the following week. As I mentioned, I’ll be posting weekly updates on my self-publishing journey on my personal blog every Wednesday, including specific challenges and solutions. Stop by or become a follower, if you want more insight into how this works out. Or if you decide to try self-publishing for yourself, let me know how it goes.
Chris Eboch still loves her traditionally published Haunted series and looks forward to releasing book 4 on her own, since the publisher doesn’t want it (silly publisher).