Friday, April 24, 2015

Riding the Self-Publishing Learning Curve - Guest Post



By: Jennifer Carole Lewis

I still remember the first time I read a book and thought “I can do better than this” to myself. At first, I dismissed the idea as rampant hubris. Everyone knows writers are specially bred from some kind of mad genetic combination of Shakespeare and Tolkien and then trained from birth in a specialty crèche system. Regular people can’t possibly become writers, much less have someone pay them for their stories.

Yet somehow I still couldn’t shake this idea that maybe I might have the skill to become a writer. I started taking my writing more seriously. I wrote my first manuscript and joined a writers group. I realized how much I still had to learn and started working on another manuscript.

As I started to finish the new manuscript, which eventually became Revelations, I realized I had to think of more than just writing the book. I had some very serious decisions to make. Did I want to pursue traditional publishing with the New York publishing houses or did I want to self-publish? I was hearing some very encouraging news from self-published authors about the amount of money they were making and the freedom they had. As Teresa Morgan, author of Handcuffed to the Sheikh, put it: No one can tell you “no” anymore. She had been turned down by the major houses but discovered a rich niche market when she self-published her first sheikh novella.

I was also hearing a lot of discouraging news about the New York houses. How they were no longer promoting and building new authors. How it was getting harder and harder to find an editor or agent without a substantial author-built publishing platform. How difficult and complex (and sometimes opaque) the system of advances and royalties could be.

I went back and forth and in the end, I decided to self-publish. If I was going to have to do the work, I reasoned, I wanted the reward to go with it. I knew it would be a lot of work and that I would have to distinguish myself from the mass of badly written amateur fiction. Before I published, I took Revelations to an editor and spent six months ripping it apart and rebuilding it until I felt I had the best possible manuscript. I got a professional cover. I did all the steps and work to ensure I had a quality book to offer.

Through my research I had discovered that 15,000 books is the standard run for a first-time author. It’s the basis for most advances. I had heard of self-published authors selling ten or twenty thousand books a month but I decided to give myself a more modest goal: 3,000 to 5,000 in the first year. If I sold 500 books, I would break even on the costs of the editing and cover. Only 10% of my modest goal and 3% of a standard print run. I’ll be honest and admit that my imagination and heart were dreaming much bigger but I am a prudent soul when it comes to a business plan.

And if I had been publishing three or four years ago, I probably would have had no trouble. But since Kindle Direct Publishing opened its doors, they have been flooded with people lured in by the promise of easy money. Individual authors are getting lost in the din and readers are expecting more from them.

Since releasing Revelations in January, I’ve had to give myself a crash course in self-promotion. I’ve had to learn how to effectively use Goodreads, Facebook and Twitter (a work in progress but coming along). I’ve heard many debates about the effectiveness of tools such as giveaways, contests, mailing lists, blogs, review sites, and personal appearances. Everyone has their preferred techniques. Some are free, and those ones tend to be flooded. Some are paid services and have strict standards and their effectiveness vs the cost is sharply argued. Some are paid services which are scams, delivering few or no sales to the author in the long term.

I’ve had people tell me to break up my story into shorter novellas and release them serially. I’ve had them tell me to get any material I have up as quickly as possible. I’ve been told to take my time and make sure I’m delivering quality over quantity. I’ve been told certain sites are sure fire hits and been told those exact same sites aren’t worth the time or money it takes to use them. I’ve been told that I don’t need to worry about promotion, word of mouth will separate the good from the bad over time. I’ve been told that I need a detailed marketing plan with a budget of several hundred a month if I ever want to sell a single book.

After listening to all of this, I’ve come to the unsurprising conclusion that there is no magic formula to follow to be a successful author. Whenever someone begins to have success with a certain technique, then lots of people jump on it and dilute the effectiveness.

So I have to keep thinking and listening and trying new things to see what I can do. I’m limited in both time and budget, so I’m careful and try to research as much as I can. I’m lucky to have a mentor, S.M. McEachern, who has been incredibly successful with her YA trilogy, Sunset Rising, and is generous enough to share her tips and contacts. But in the end, it boils down to getting your book in front of people who will read it and start to tell other people that they should read it, too.

Right now I’m running a Goodreads giveaway for two print copies of Revelations and a draw for a $20 Amazon gift card.
I did a massive blog blitz when Revelations was released and I am looking for a suitable organizer to run a second blog tour later this year. I will be running Kindle Countdown Deals and am looking into affordable advertising options. For social media, I’m sticking to Goodreads, Facebook and Twitter for now. I have a twice-weekly blog at www.pastthemirror.com and I’m setting up a mailing list. I have a short story set in the lalassu universe to be released in September and, if all goes according to plan, the sequel to Revelations, Metamorphosis, should be released in early 2016.

I’ve been enjoying connecting with my early readers and reviewers. There is nothing more thrilling than hearing someone say that they loved your story, that it made them think, that it took them away from ordinary life for the space of a few hours. In the end, I like to believe my natural stubbornness will help me to make it through. Because I believe that dreams do come true, and even though they are a lot of work, it makes them all the sweeter in the end.

About the Author:
Jennifer Carole Lewis is a full-time mom, a full-time administrator and a full-time writer, which means she is very much interested in speaking to anyone who comes up with any form of functional time-travel devices or practical cloning methods.  Meanwhile, she spends her most of her time alternating between organizing and typing.
She is a devoted comic book geek and Marvel movie enthusiast.  She spends far too much of her precious free time watching TV, especially police procedural dramas.  Her enthusiasm outstrips her talent in karaoke, cross-stitch and jigsaw puzzles.  She is a voracious reader of a wide variety of fiction and non-fiction and always enjoys seeking out new suggestions.

Check out the first chapter of Revelations here.

UPDATED: Check out my five-star review of Revelations here.

Get in touch with Jennifer:
https://twitter.com/jclewisupdate
www.facebook.com/pages/Jennifer-Carole-Lewis/266116980245327
http://www.pastthemirror.com/



Links to Authors mentioned:
S.M. McEachern: http://smmceachern.com/