Saturday, August 11, 2012

Adventures in Self-Publishing

I thought it would be a pretty good idea to document my Amazon adventure in self-publishing so I had a small archive to refer to. It also might help the average person make a decision on whether to pursue this type of publishing or not. I say average, because that's about what I am. I do have two other novels and two short stories up on Amazon, but those are there compliments of trade publishers. Those books pull average rank and sales numbers, sitting anywhere from 95,000 to 450,000 in rank and sell maybe one or two books each a week. Boringly average. I have a newish blog, you're reading it right now, that is about five months young and has almost 5,000 pages hits and 70 subscribers--boringly average. I think a 1000 hits a month is average.

My decision to self-publish was an arduous decision. I'd read all the Joe Konath brough-ha-ha, and then I read the other side of the coin--the side of the coin that spelled out disaster, failure or very tepid sales returns. I just found out that there is a mid-list self-published sect and these authors claim that they pull anywhere from $500 a month to $5,000 a month, with a mean average settling in about $2,000 or so. Most of them admit that these mid-list figures result from multiple books, stories or novellas. Now, me, I've really got that new car smell. I'm putting up one book, and one book only. Okay, so we can either fly out of the gate with huge sales numbers (realistically unlikely), take the slower road to mid-list, or our book can disappear into the huge swamp of ten million books on Amazon. My wish is/was to hitch a ride on the mid-list train and gradually build a reader base.

I knew from the beginning that I had to start with a popular genre and a great book. For my experiment I was going to try a back-list title which had already seen the limelight but died a swift sales and rank death. It was pretty easy for me to ask my publisher for an early release and a rights reversion. I decided early on that a fresh title would be too risky--that's why I wanted this back-lister. Besides, my agent would probably sneer at me if I didn't offer her my newest projects. 

I decided on Gate Walker, a paranormal romance. Sub-genres were thriller and YA. YA since my MC was an 18 year-old female, and the reviewers had stated that it qualified for such. This book was published by a small e-press that is pretty well known. It carried the third highest publisher ranking for six months then moved to the number sixth position for another three months. It had one four and one five-star review from Bitten By Books and Aurora. I can't remember how many author interviews I did, where I plugged it, maybe five or six. Oh, and it had a dynamite storyline and fairly unique concept. I sold about 60 copies of this book in the first quarter of publication, then nothing for 18 months. And I pushed the promo on it like mad for that amount of time. Still nada. Typical? Yep.

I pulled the latest edited version of Gate Walker from my files and went over it and tried to catch every typo that might have been missed. I revised some scenes and paragraphs. Now this book went through five major editorial passes that lasted for six months with the original publisher. I'd gone through it about three times prior, so I knew it was damn close to being very copy-ready. There's always the chance you'll miss something in the text, and I probably have. But the major work was done, and I just put the finishing touch on it one last time. Tip: don't skimp on this editing process. It'll pay dividends later or flat out embarrass you.

I'm a tech idiot. I know word programs and email and that's it. I don't know how to create a cover or format for Amazon, Smashwords or anybody else. I was looking at medium or major expense to have this done. Then a miracle happened. I never asked for help. I only mentioned in some forums that I wished I had the experience of some of these self-publishers who'd done their own work and uploaded their books. Two people took pity on me--a guy who could format with his eyes closed, and a professional cover artist. I'll mention Greg and Farah Evers here as the two angels that came to my rescue. Greg did the formatting in one day, and Farah produced the cover and title even quicker. And there it was, The War Gate--formatted, retitled, re-edited and covered!

I had to register and create an account on Amazon. It was a little daunting but I found all the drop-downs and field boxes that required you to list your name, personal info, blurb, tags, price information, method of payment and the program. It doesn't cost you anything to do this. I started off with the KDP program, which is the basic package. KDP allows you to publish on all the other venues. It seemed pretty straight forward. I'd heard time and time again that the sweet spot price for a full length novel of 100,000 words or so was $2.99. The War Gate would go for $2.99.

I hit the submit and publish button, took a deep breath and then organized all of the target promotion spots I would hit. I wasted no time. I first went to Book Blogs and added some groups to the ones I'd already had. I joined a total of 18 groups, but realized that about 10 to 12 of them were adequate for announcing the debut launch of The War Gate. I simply pasted a refined query letter into the topic box, added a cover that I copied directly off the Amazon page, and listed the price--$2.99. I went to Gather and shared about four announcements in separate groups. I hit LinkedIn, announced there, then GoodReads, Pinterest, Stumbled Upon, Chronicles SF forum, Absolutewrite, SFF Chronicles, Bookwhirl, Shelfari, Red Room, Accentuate Writers, Library Thing, Stage 32,, WritersCafe, Bookhitch, Wattpad,, Booksie, Twitter, FaceBook, SFF World,, and just about any other YADS (yet another display site) I could think of. I didn't use any PR webs, since they often require a purchase plan. I would spend no money on promotion, marketing or advertizing.  I pushed this campaign for five days straight.

I sold two copies in the first two days. Then The War Gate laid down for a rest for five straight, inactive days. When its rank reached 450,000, I panicked and wondered what in the hell happened. After all that media blasting, I'd managed to sell two copies? OMG. Visions of the Amazon swamp came over me in nauseating reality. How in the name of the Maker could I get out of this mess? What had I done so wrong? Or was this really an average reaction to a new title by an unknown author? Or was it really true that self-promotion does absolutely nothing. I was beginning to have my doubts. Then I had an epiphany. There was another way to skin this cat.

I would join the Select Program and offer The War Gate free to the world. 

To be continued....

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Small Press Warning Signs.

 Just how much promotion and marketing is your small or indie press doing for your book?

Granted, I know from past publisher that the author should participate and do promos (per most of my contracts), but I keep hearing from other authors that their publisher "puts their best foot forward" and does lots of promotion and marketing. Oh, really? And how do you know that unless you Google your book's title and perform a thorough online search to find out if that book is listed in any other venues, like review sites, blog fillers, online retailers, display sites, press release services or paid advertising slots? Has your publisher emailed you and alerted you to these showings and announcements? Publishers who actively promote and market your book will have no problem alerting you to the fact. If you see nothing but listings on your publisher's website, Amazon and nowhere else, you've got a problem.

If you see these problems it is an indication that the publisher's "best foot forward" is going to kick the author in the butt and tell him/her to get out there and sell books.

Just like a recent publisher told me what to do upon a new release. "Get out there now and sell books." All I had to do was Google the other publisher's books to see where they appeared. Then I would have to differentiate between what the publisher had listed and what the author had done themselves. Look for the publisher's distributor. If they have no distributor that actively sells to the libraries and bookstores, they have no significant distribution. They are in what amounts to be online book catalogs.

I took great offense to the publisher's direct order and, frankly, am getting fed-up with hearing these push/shove tactics from small press. I've had my share of grief from these amateur printers, and have delighted in tearing up more contracts than I've signed in the past 12 years

A free sales force is the most enticing aspect of why small mom and pop publishers go into business in the first place. They have to make money to survive. That's understandable. A love of books and respect for their authors comes second, IMO. There are exceptions, but the fine lines are still there.

I don't mean to paint this with such a broad brush. I do have some very involved and aggressive publishers who really know what they're doing. But you have to watch out for the others and perform due diligence during research. It took me a while to spot the lazy or insolvent ones by carefully reading their mission statements. Any excessive author promo and marketing commandments that appear in a publisher's mission statement is enough for me to back off and seriously reconsider. I'm talking about above the normal expectations of what an author is expected to do.

If they ask you to outline how many book readings and personal appearances you're scheduling for the year, how much money you're spending on ads, what is the size of your mailing list, how many books are you prepared to buy and resell, or if you can meet their minimum author book purchases, consider yourself hired on as a non-paid traveling book salesperson. If you see any of this in your contract, don't sign it.   

If you've signed such a contract too hastily, unaware that these nasty little clauses escaped you, start proceedings to remove yourself from the contract and have your rights returned. (Watch out for termination and buy-out clauses that will cost you money upon contract release).

If you're asked to purchase the publisher's promotion/marketing book--run like hell before contract signing. Don't pay for a catalog listing your book.

If you're asked to compile a friends and family list with email addresses, house addresses or phone numbers--refuse it. This request can pop up after contract signing. 

If you get bombarded with instructional emails on how, why, when and where to market and promote your book--beware.

If you're asked to contribute financially to a group ad for the publisher so your book can be included in a major media publication--duck and cover.

If you're asked to guarantee a comprehensive marketing plan and budget--run like hell.

If you are required to do book signings and you must perform a certain amount of signings within any type of a time frame at your travel expense--run like hell.  Especially if you're required to purchase your own books for resale.

If you can see that the publisher sells exclusively from their website, with little or no penetration into the other online retail stores or lists--run like hell.

If you are warned that low sales might be grounds for halting paperback publication and going to out-of-print status--run like hell. If fact, if you have to sell a minimum amount of e-books to qualify for a paperback version, give it serious thought. 

Read that contract and obtain legal advice, preferably from an attorney that specializes in literary contract (law) clauses and publication rights. If you'd had an agent, he/she would have never let you get into this situation to begin with.


Welcome to The War Gate, a paranormal romance/thriller. IT WILL BE LISTED ON AMAZON FOR FREE, STARTING AUGUST 9TH AND LASTING FOR TWO DAYS. Reviews will be greatly appreciated!