Tag Archives: social media

My Self Publishing Journey: Second and Third Guessing

As I’ve been revising my blog posts into a book about my first year of independent publishing, I’ve found a significant amount to revise. Mostly its because I’ve learned more about the process since I first wrote various posts. Usually I know what changes I need to make, but on the topic of self promotion my choices are less clear.

As I’ve written before, there are many who say that the use of social media networking is the author’s friend. At first this seemed like a no-brainer to me. It’s FREE, and provides a means to connect with readers and establish a relationship with them so that they’ll be more interested in buying books. It’s important to be genuinely friendly and not just say, “Buy my book,” over and over again. One method to do this is to find a topic you really enjoy and discuss that, not your book. It’s a pretty well established principle that people prefer doing business with people they like, so all this makes sense.

Except there are people and surveys that suggest that spending time on social media networks isn’t really very productive, as measured by sales. Joe Konrath reports that after watching his sales very carefully in relation to when he did blog tours or gave national interviews, he found that his sales barely moved. Dean Wesley Smith and Kris Rusch both recommend spending your time writing the next book rather than promoting the last one. In a survey done by Bowker and Romance Writers of America, readers reported that they were not influenced to buy by reading an author’s Tweets, Facebook, or their blogs.

I know I’m not. But even knowing this, I still find the the idea that using social media is the author’s ticket to big sales seductive and hard to ignore. It suggests that we have some measure of control, that we have a way to directly influence buyers. If even traditional publishers expect their authors to get out there and hustle, it must work, right?

So what’s an indie author to do? Does social media work, or not? How do we tell the world our book exists? How do we find our audience?

I feel a little disingenuous telling you that social media doesn’t work when I haven’t given it the full court press myself. Even though various surveys’ data suggests it’s not much use, I use Twitter occasionally for a brief announcement that a book is free (not what social media experts say you’re supposed to do), and Facebook a little more because it amuses me. But does it help my business? I think a few people have found my books because of it. Is that enough to justify the time spent? That’s harder to say. When you’re starting out every sale is a singular and special event. An author friend says she notices a small spike in sales when she occasionally mentions her books. Two others have used Goodreads’ contests to good effect.I blog because I read advice two and a half years ago that said I should build my online platform before I publish. I enjoy the blogging, but has it helped my sales?

I can answer the last question with a qualified yes. I’m pretty sure I’ve made sales because other writers found my blog. That led to me being invited to guest post to a wider audience because, and to teach a class on indie publishing. So that, at least, has been worth the time invested.

I’ve also used price manipulation to attract readers. At various times I’ve made my books free on Kindle Select. (You can make your books free without being exclusive to Amazon, but it’s a little more complicated, and you won’t have as much control over the dates. I use KS because Amazon has, for the moment, the biggest share of the online market by far, and I like making money from Amazon Prime borrows.) I firmly believe that many, many more people have discovered my books because they were free than would have through social media, and it took up much less of my time.

What I’ve concluded from reading various points of view is that authors need to use different tools when they’re at various points of their careers. A brand new author with no publishing history most needs to write and publish multiple books, but they also need to do a little social media to at least let their friends know they have a book out. Once a writer has a few books out, then it might make sense to spend a little more time promoting, like soliciting reviews. But even then, writing should be the top priority. I, for one, am not a fast writer, so the best use my time is to create the books that my fans are asking for. Later, when an author has an established following her need for social networking diminishes again, as word of mouth is her primary and most effective promotion.

That’s the plan I’m using for now, until I see data that convinces me to change course. Because in the end, it’s our books that readers want most, not our Tweets.



Filed under Publishing

My Self-Publishing Journey: Same Song, Different Verse–Measuring Success

My husband has described me as a terrier. When I get hold of an idea, it’s hard for me to let go of it. My rational mind may know better (Spock, remember?) but emotionally, it’s hard for me to let go of a goal.

I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in wanting the same phenomenal success that John Locke, J.A Konrath, and Bella Andre have experienced. But I’m not John, Joe, or Bella. I’m not at the same place in my career that they are. I don’t write the same kind of books they write. I don’t put my promotional efforts in the same places with the same force that they do. And neither do you.

We’re all unique. With unique strengths, weaknesses, and demands on our time. With our own measure of luck. Self-publishing is so new, and is changing so rapidly, that we look to each other to see what’s possible and how to do it. We’re lucky indeed to have great examples of success in these people, but we probably shouldn’t measure our own progress against them too closely.

We each have unique values, about what is important to us in our lives, and we can’t afford to ignore them in favor of putting all of our energy into publishing. Success is more than the number of books we sell, even if the latter is more easily measured. Success can be a healthy body, a happy home, great food on the table.

As readers of this blog know, I take self-publishing seriously as a business.  Starting a new business is demanding, and we all want to see our efforts bear fruit. Unfortunately, sales are not something we have direct control over, and as such, should only be a small part of how we measure our success. We can control the quality of our books, and how many book reviewers we petition, and how often we blog or tweet, but we can’t control whether someone buys our books. We can only make our books attractive and easy to purchase.

So measure what you have control over, and let your values be your guide. Your book sales may indicate  whether what you’re doing is effective, but shouldn’t be the only measure of your success.

And remember:  have fun. That’s one of my values.


Filed under Publishing

My Self Publishing Journey: Using Kindle Select

Having just launched DANGEROUS TALENTS, I am, of course, very interested in giving my baby the best start in life. There is no shortage of advice out there on how to to that. I’ve written before in this series about how I’m doing that, and I haven’t read anything since then that will change my approach, except for one thing: using price manipulation.

Joe Konrath wrote that the only thing he’s ever noticed make any significant difference in sales was getting more good quality, professionally produced books out, and price manipulation. Recently I heard about the success that Kris Tualla, a fellow writer had experienced using the Kindle Select free promo. Shortly after that, I read a blog by Phoenix Sullivan on the same topic. The handwriting was on the wall (so to speak). My sales for LIGHTBRINGER on sites other than Amazon were negligible. I didn’t have anything to lose by giving Amazon exclusivity. So six weeks ago I decided to give Kindle Select and their free promo a shot.

The theory is this: by making your book free for a few days, it moves up in the Amazon ranking system, and that makes your book more visible to readers, which helps you make more sales after your book goes back to paid. Easy peasy.

Did it work? It’s too soon to say how this strategy will play out over the long term, but in the short term: Yes.  In the 30 days after going back to paid status after the free promo, I sold 10 times as many copies of LIGHTBRINGER as I had sold in any previous month on Kindle. LIGHTBRINGER started appearing in the “Customers who bought this item also bought” line-ups of other books, increasing its visibility.

Not surprisingly, I decided to use this strategy when I released DANGEROUS TALENTS. So far, in the four days since DT went back to paid status, I have sold more books than I think I would have otherwise. Obviously, there’s no way to know that, except to compare with the sales of my other releases. (One warning:  Don’t panic if you don’t see a surge of sales right away. There seems to be a 24-48 hour lag while Amazon’s algorithm’s kick in, before sales pick up.) I haven’t done a social media blitz about DT, but I have mentioned it a few times on Facebook, Twitter, and some loops I’m a member of.

As for LIGHTBRINGER, sales seem to have dropped off again to a level only slightly better than they were before the free promo. I’m contemplating the possibility of running another free promo with my remaining free days in month or so, to see if my initial success can be repeated with a second promo.

This is exciting stuff for a control freak like me. The Kindle Select price manipulation seems to be a low risk, low time investment method of improving visibility and thereby sales.

There are arguments to be made against granting Amazon exclusivity. And it’s not absolutely necessary to do so to make your book free for a time. One advantage going with Kindle Select does give you, is making your book eligible for Amazon’s lending program, in which they pay the author a percentage of a pre-set fund per borrow. That fee fluctuates each month depending on the size of the fund and the number of borrows. I understand the amount has been as low as $0.70, and as high as $2.10 per borrow (but don’t quote me on that).

Some readers out there only have Nooks and won’t find your book if it’s only on Amazon. But from my own experience, I’m not sacrificing very many Nook sales (and I can go back to selling on B&N after 90 days if I want to). I do have a friend who has sold more stories on B&N than on Amazon in some months. You’ll have to decide for yourself if this is a good strategy for you.

And finally, some authors have an allergy to granting any one retailer exclusivity, especially Amazon. Again, that’s a personal decision. For me, for the next 90 days, I’m going to follow Mark Twain’s advise: I’m going to put all my eggs in one basket, AND WATCH THAT BASKET!



Filed under Publishing

Pareto’s Law: The 80/20 Rule

Vilfredo Pareto was an Italian economist who observed in 1906 that 80% of the land was owned by 20% of the people.  He furthered his observation in his garden by noting that 80% of the peas came from 20% of the pea pods.

Why the heck am I writing about an Italian economist who liked to garden a century ago?

It has since become a rule of thumb in business that 80% of sales will come from 20% of the clients. Are you getting the idea now?

As self-publishers have to do it all:  writing, production, marketing. Our time is limited so we have to use it wisely. If we accept that 80% of the results will come from 20% of the effort, we have to determine which 20% of the effort is bearing fruit. Or peas, as the case may be.

I’ve written about spending money instead of my time for a cover. I spent a small amount of time finding an artist: evaluating the portfolios of several artists, choosing one, contacting her, then evaluating the three iterations of the cover she produced, requesting revisions. All of that took far less time than learning to do it myself and produced a cover that was better than anything I could have come up with in far less time.  Twenty percent effort=80% result.

Likewise, there’s the question of how much time to spend on self-promotion. Social media is free and there are many, many venues to use to get your brand out to the public. But it can be a HUGE time-suck.  Many authors make the mistake of suspending writing in favor of spending their time promoting. This is a mistake, in my opinion. There are multiple surveys that show that the two most effective ways to influence people to buy your books is

  1. Have a good reputation for writing good stories, and
  2. Have people recommend your book to their friends. How do you make that happen? See number one.

It follows that the best use of your time is to

  1. Write good stories, (80% of your time) and
  2. Let people in your niche know about them in a friendly, not spammy, way (20% of your time).

If this sounds so simplistic as to be insulting, please forgive me. It’s something I have to keep reminding myself of.  And in fact, I still haven’t quite gotten the hang of it yet.

Okay, so what about writing that good story? I’m a believer in the idea that my self-published books should be as good as I can make them, right now. I owe that to myself and I owe that to my readers. I owe us both a nice cover, clean formatting, clean prose, and most importantly, a good story.

I don’t owe anyone perfection.

The question is, how do you know when the story is ready?  When do you stop revising and editing and say it’s good enough?  Can you say, “It’s good enough”?  I think the words “good enough” raise the hackles of many a writer. “Good enough” implies to them that there’s still room for improvement, and if you stop short, before a story is as good as it can possibly be, you’re a slacker, a hack, a lesser being undeserving of sales.

Arithmetically, it’s not possible to achieve 100% perfection. Two iterations of the 80/20 rule will get you 96% of the way to perfection. Three will get you 99.2% of the way, etc.

Of course, we’re not talking about arithmetic, we’re talking about writing, and writing doesn’t add up in neat little sums the way numbers do.  I can’t tell you when your story is good enough. I can tell you that it’s possible to revise your first chapter over and over and never finish the book. It’s possible to finish your book and revise the spark of life right out of it. It’s also possible to put a book away for a year, come back to it and make it stronger. There is no right answer that works in all cases.

The point of this rambling is: Use your time effectively. Where you’ll be tomorrow is the result of what you choose to do today. I know from experience that it’s incredibly easy to scatter one’s efforts and achieve very little. Spend less time on FaceBook and Twitter and reading blogs, (except this one, of course :-)). Instead, write, revise, then send it out the door.  Tell a few friends about it, then write another story.


Filed under writing

Self-Publishing — How I Began

In the beginning. . . .

I started thinking about self-publishing a little over a year and a half ago. Friends like Liz Danforth and Mike Stackpole were fervent about the inevitability of digital change. Mike, one of the first authors to leap into the digital pool, advised a riveted audience at the 2009 TusCon Science-Fiction Convention to start learning about digital publishing and social media.

A little later, J.A. Konrath changed his mind about self-publishing. Prior to that, he’d been against SP for a variety of reasons, but that changed. I hadn’t heard about Konrath then, but I soon would. I devoured books, and later blogs, soaking up information and letting it swirl around in my head until it gelled into a decision.

At the same time I had a couple of former critique partners urging me away from the SP path. They felt strongly that my work was “too good” to waste on self-publishing, that I hadn’t sent my work out enough (I’d only collected a little over 100 rejections) and I hadn’t tried enough of the smaller publishers. So I did more research, decided that The Wild Rose Press would be a good fit for my paranormal suspense Veiled Mirror (in part because they would bring it out in print as well as digital), sent in my query, and settled back to wait – again. Wonderfully, TWRP didn’t leave me in limbo for weeks as other publishers had done. (That’s one of their strengths:  quick, friendly communication.) They asked for the partial, then the full, and then they were saying they wanted to offer me a contract!

My author ticket had been validated!  I was a REAL bunny – er, writer.

And all this time I continued thinking and reading and talking and blogging about self-publishing. I’d discovered Konrath by this time, and Smith and Rusch. Predictions were being made by Stackpole and Shatzkin about when the tipping point would come for paper books and the consequences to bookstores and publishers, and it wasn’t that far off. The voices were combining into a choir singing the same song: Digital Is The Future. It was while I was combing through the galleys for Veiled Mirror that I decided to self-publish my next book, Lightbringer.

But where to start?

As it happened, I read a post on that very subject by Dean Wesley Smith, and so I began, moving in slow motion.

I bought the domain name, Castle Rock Publishing.

Months later, I opened a business account so my sales could be direct deposited.

I researched, and decided not to incorporate.

I registered a Trade name.

I found a cover artist I liked , recommended her to Roxy Rogers, but didn’t contact her myself.

I stalled.

Somehow, the next step, the step of actually contacting the cover artist, of contacting an editor, would make it all real. I knew that once I did that, the rest would be inevitable, I would be a self-publishing author, with all that meant, good and bad. Those “what-if’s” I wrote about in an earlier post arose like a wall of thorns in a fairy tale. It seems silly now, looking back just a few months, but at the time I gave those “what if’s” the power to hold me still.

And then Roxy told me she had contacted the artist I’d recommended, and a freelance editor, and was self-pubbing two of her short stories in August. It was the last little push I needed. If she could do it, I could! I couldn’t let her have all the fun!  I contacted Kim Killion, Edits that Rock, and a formatter.

And so here I am, moving forward again, sharing my journey with you.  I wish I could say that I simply looked at the facts, made a rational decision, and then acted, full steam ahead. If I had, I’d probably already have a self-pubbed book out there. But that’s not how it happened.

I plan to write more about my decision to not incorporate, the importance of covers, how to measure success, and how to make sure your manuscript is the best it can be, with and without professional editing. Let me know what questions you have, and what parts you most want to know about.


Filed under writing

Author, Know Thyself

Anyone who is interested in self-publishing should read Janni Simner‘s most recent comment to my post “Is Publishing a Dirty Word.”  Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Janni’s right.  Self-publishing is (by everything I’ve read) a rough row to hoe.  The odds are against you.  So why do it?

Why does one decide to self-publish?  No, let’s make the question bigger:  How does an author decide on her career path?  Some of that path is, obviously, out of her hands.  An author can do her best to perfect her craft, study the markets, and submit to all the right places (that serve her goals), she can promote herself online and in the “real” world, but in the end she has no control over whether her book is published — unless she chooses self-publishing.

That statement should not be taken as the reason to choose self-publishing.  Janni is right in pretty much every particular.  If what an author wants is wide distribution, she probably shouldn’t choose self-publishing.

And that brings me to my point:  What do you want?  Why are you writing?

These aren’t simple questions.  There’s a lot of emotion tied up in these questions.  And it’s been pretty well established that no matter how much we try to be rational and logical, our decisions are ultimately made by our subconscious base on the info the conscious mind has gathered.  (Some results of some consciousness studies have shown that an action is begun before the conscious mind is aware of it and so creates a decision to justify it, thus making Behaviorists happy.)

But I digress.

As Linda Houle points out in her book The Naked Truth About Book Publishing, an author should know what they want and what their expectations are.  Only then can she make an informed decision.

Traditional publishing (with a NY publisher) is slow but will get you wider distribution, more promotion.  You’ll get paid an advance.  There’s a certain prestige in getting published by the Big Six.  The odds are stacked against you here too, though.  Less than 1% of books submitted are published.  (Some would argue that’s a good thing.  The vast majority of books in the slush pile are dreadful.  They just aren’t ready to see the light of day.)  It’s been said by more than one person giving advice on how to submit to NY, editors are looking for a reason to reject you.  Don’t give them one.  They want to find the next great book, but they don’t have time to sift through the mountains of drek stacked in the corners of their offices.  So they look for reasons to reject your book.

The odds are better with small, independent presses, but not much.  They may accept about 4% of what’s sent to them. They’ll give you more personal attention than a big house will, but the advances are small if they give one at all.  They have smaller promotional budgets.  An author will have to shoulder a lot of that responsibility.  Many, if not most, don’t get into the brick and mortar bookstores, though readers can usually special order a book if they pay up front.

Ebooks still only command about 5 – 8 % of the market, but that’s growing.  A number of people in the industry (Michael Stackpole, Mike Shatzkin, Carolyn Reidy) have predicted that by the end of 2012 they will comprise 25% of book sales.  Still, at present, your book won’t reach most of the reading public because they don’t yet read on their computers or a dedicated device.  Ebook publishers do make an effort to promote their releases, but they don’t have big budgets either, so it will mostly be up to the author.  Most don’t pay advances and if they do it’s hundreds, not thousands of dollars.  There’s more prestige connected with being published by an ebook gatekeeper than if you go it alone. (Thanks to Kris Tualla for pointing me in the direction of the statistics.)

Self-publishing.  It’s all up to the author.  There are numerous resources to guide the author-publisher, but in the end it’s up to her to pay for everything with time and money.  There is precious little prestige unless you are one of the few who have a great book and the promotional skills to create buzz about your work.  You probably won’t make a lot of money.  (It can happen, I’m just relating the odds.)  It’s main recommendation:  Control.  The author decides when and how to put her ass work on the line.

Will self-pubbing damage your reputation in the publishing community?  I think that depends on the quality of the work and how professionally the author presents herself.  And that kind of self-examination is very hard.

So what do you want?  Money?  Prestige?  People to read your book?  All of the above?


Filed under writing

Wednesday Review: Plug Your Book by Steve Weber

As any author who has been paying attention knows, the promotion of our books is largely a DIY affair.  In today’s economy, publishers reserve the bulk of their promotional dollars for the elite few.  Featured releases get a little extra attention too, but the mid-list largely has to look out for itself.  There’s no evil intent or malice involved.  It’s just business.

So it’s great when a book like Plug Your Book:  Online Book Marketing for Authors comes along to shine a light in the wilderness for the rest of us.

Plug Your Book by Steve Weber is crammed full of information that will be useful to both self/independently published authors and traditionally published authors.  I probably highlighlighted items on every third page.

This is not a book to be read once and passed on.  There’s just too much info in it for that.  You should follow the recommedation Weber makes at the beginning:  “Read through this entire book once.  Then read it again, selecting and prioritizing what you’ll tackle first.”

Weber spends a lot of time discussing the many ways authors can use Amazon to improve their sales.  “Amazon is ground zero for your online campaign.”  Given that Amazon currently is the top online bookseller by a wide margin, this isn’t surprising.  He also addresses the benefits of blogging, websites, social networking as well as other details of self-promotion.

I particularly liked his admonishment:  “This book is not a quick-fix plan; there is no such thing as overnight success.  It might require a year or more of steady work to see appreciable results.”  This echoes what Gary Vaynerchuck wrote in Crush It!

He quotes Seth Godin in the chapter on Building Your Author Web-site:  “The best time to start promoting your book is three years before it comes out.  Three years to build a reputation, . . . build a following, . . . and build the connections you’ll need later.”  This seems a little long for a lead time (especially for an impatient person like me), but if we’re in this business for the long haul, we need to be realistic.

My only complaint is something that Weber has no control over.  Time passes and things change quickly online.  His emphasis on My Space over Facebook and other social networking sites seems a little out-dated.  He does point the reader at the book’s website for updates, however.

I definitely recommend this book.


Filed under Book reviews, writing

Jumping In

Over the last year I’ve been easing into the social media waters.  First I got a website and then I got a FaceBook account for my alter ego.  Recently I had extensive conversations with Mike Stackpole at TusCon 36 (a great little Science-fiction convention in Tucson, AZ) about how writers can use social media.  I’ve been hearing and reading about such things for some time now, but the message has finally sunk in:  participating in social media is a necessity.

So here I am.

I’m not a Luddite, but I’m not a first adopter, either.  But times being what they are in the publishing industry, I’m now taking another step into the great internet community.

I’ll try to keep this interesting, and I hope you come back.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized