More Reflections On One Year in Publishing

S. J. Pajonas September 11, 2014
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More thoughts and reflections on my first year as a published author.

This is part two of my One Year in Publishing Anniversery post. You can read part one now or later.

Thanks for stopping by to help me celebrate one year in publishing. A year ago, I published my first book, REMOVED, and celebrated with cupcakes (now my tradition every time I publish a book). If you’re looking for some numbers on how my first year as a self-published author went, you’ll want to check out the first post I wrote yesterday. At the end of that post I promised you I would talk about the following today: the power of free and box sets, what I didn’t enjoy about this past year (I’ll be nice), what resources I thought were valuable, and what I’m looking forward to in the coming year.

The Power of Free and Box Sets

Let me first start by saying that you can’t harness the power of FREE nor a Box Set if you have only one book out. Sure, you can do both or either, but you’re not going to feel the real power of these tools unless you have more books in a series or in your back catalog to send readers to if they love your work.

Let’s start with FREE. For the longest time I didn’t want to offer any of my work for free. I heard a lot from other authors about free being the devil. How no one reads the free books they download. How it devalues our work. That people will buy your book at 99¢ if it’s worth anything, so why make it free? But then I read WRITE. PUBLISH. REPEAT. and if you haven’t read it yet, you really should. It changed my whole way of thinking about self-publishing. Sean Platt, et al recommended free. They say that it takes away the price barrier between a brand-new author and a new reader, and with all the success they’ve had I figured I would give it a shot. Because I’m the type of person who likes to make my own informed decisions once I’m educated about both sides of the argument.

So, I made REMOVED free from August 7-20. It was approximately 14 days, and during that time, I submitted it to about 30 websites that let you list free books, I coupled it with a sale of Book 2, RELEASED, a new release of Book 3, REUNITED, and a Freebooksy ad. REMOVED was downloaded 2592 times during its free period which truly astounded me. It rocketed to the top #500 of Kindle Free books and it hit #1 and #2 on the Scifi Dystopian and Colonization lists.

Screen Shot 2014-08-09 at 221DOY, Sat 08.09.2014   8.21.21 AM

Do people read free books? I believe they do if my sales of the rest of the books in the series are any indication. Since REMOVED was free, I have sold at least 2 copies of other Nogiku Series books everyday. Some days I sell 7 or 8 books, which is a lot for me (in the month of March I only sold 10 books total). It’s been 10 days in September so far and my average is 4.4 books per day. Amazing numbers for me. Really.

Since the beginning of the free promotion, the back-of-the-book link from REMOVED to RELEASED on Amazon has been clicked on 17 times. This doesn’t account for people who just reach the end of the book and automatically go to the website to buy Book 2 without clicking on my link. More reviews have been added to Amazon, too. I’m hoping for a 1-5% conversion rate from free to paid (buying more in the series) and right now I’m at 0.6%, maybe a little more. I’m happy with that and will hope that it increases over time.

All in all, I believe in the power of free and will definitely be using it again some time in the future.

Box Sets are another way to reach an audience you didn’t have access to before. Being in the Nebula Nights box set, I was able to reach the audiences of my fellow box set authors and anyone else willing to try out a new genre for only 99¢. One review has already mentioned my book, and I’ve heard through other channels that people have been reading REMOVED in the NN box set and buying the rest of the books.

We made it to #1 on Kobo for a day or two!! Great exposure.
We made it to #1 on Kobo for a day or two!! Great exposure.

But it’s important to note that you will only be able to leverage the power of a box set if you have other books for people to buy. Here is what I’ve found: even if readers LOVE your work and have read 3 of 4 books in a series, when given the chance to sign up for your newsletter, only about 60% of those people are going subscribe. Yes, only 60%. So if the only option you give them is your newsletter and not more books, your conversion rate is going to be pretty low.

So, along with free, this is another option for broadening your audience and increasing your sales and author rank at Amazon.

What I didn’t enjoy about this past year

This is a pretty easy one to answer. The hardest things to bear as a self-published author are negative reviews and actually publishing the damned books. Lol.

The negative reviews are tough every single time. I really try not to read them, and some times I succeed by texting my friend Tracy and having her read them instead. Sometimes I accidentally read them because they’re on a blog post and the blog author doesn’t put their star rating at the top of the post (which I really wish they all did). And it’s truly crushing when a long rambling negative review is filled with spoilers, and there is NOTHING that you can do about it.

(Thanks for ruining the book for other people, thumbsdown shit)

Each time, I feel broken-hearted, then I feel angry, then I feel sad again, then I’m resigned, then I go to sleep and the next day I forget about it. It usually takes me a day or two to realize the world is not ending because of that one bad review, and I remind myself that all reviews, positive and negative, help people decide on what books to read. I have often bought books BECAUSE of bad reviews, so I can see other people doing the same. And I also remember that an array of reviews from 1 star to 5 stars legitimizes a book. So while this whole review process really kind of stinks for the author, it’s best for the book. Please remind me to stop looking at them.

The other issue I have with self-publishing is the actual publishing part. I can produce a great book. I know my books have something special about them, and I work hard to get them in tip-top shape. The files are alllllll ready to go. I’m set to upload them, and then there’s always a problem.

I think it’ll only take a day for Amazon to publish so I give it two days. It ends up taking five.
*Pulls hair out* scream rage cry

I have trouble the first two times getting REMOVED and RELEASED onto Apple’s iBookstore, so for FACE TIME I gave it two weeks. Then Draft2Digital had some sort of reporting snafu and never sent me the email that it was available.
*Pulls hair out* scream rage cry

Soooooo, for REUNITED I thought, “I’m gonna get this bitch up EARLY onto Apple, so that I can get some preorders even.” It took them over two weeks to REJECT the book. Why? Because I mentioned the word “iBooks” in the back matter.
??? scream rage cry

They rejected the second REVEALED short story three times over stupid stuff too like the fact that I mentioned the word “free” in my product description. It took almost an entire month for them to publish REVEALED PART TWO. People, my hair actually began to fall out due to stress. I would stand in the shower and wash my hair and come away with large amounts of it in my hand. Like postpartum hair loss (the women out there who have birthed kids know what I’m talking about).

And this wasn’t even half my problems. I decided to move my books from Nook Press to Draft2Digital to give myself more pricing leeway, and the transition was tough too. The Barnes & Noble database couldn’t sync up my books so the reviews weren’t transferring over and the series names weren’t working. That was another two weeks of stress I hadn’t anticipated. Ugh.
scream rage cry

I actually thought about going exclusive with Amazon at this time because I was so pissed off. I have since cooled down and sales have ticked up at Apple, and it all reminds me that it’s good to diversify. I just really wish I had an easier time publishing. For some reason, I catch all the bad luck here.

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What resources I thought were valuable

It’s hard to pin down the exact things I learned this past year that were the most helpful in my journey. A lot of the time, I learn things from other people, pass that info on to other authors, it works for them too, so I try it and I fail. For example, 99¢ release price point. It has worked for pretty much every author I know. Me? Nothing. I tried with RELEASED and either I write too out-of-mainstream or I was too unknown because that got me absolutely nowhere. Targeting ads to certain countries and certain buying channels (UK Amazon or Asia Kobo) also didn’t work for me but has worked for others. Goodreads ads which a lot of authors swear by? Nothing. Really, I feel like I have tried it all but Bookbub and that’s only because Bookbub rejected me. Lol.

But I have a few things that were valuable and I learned them from WRITE. PUBLISH. REPEAT. which you ALL should read. All y’all. Please read it. It will talk sense. It will make you BELIEVE. I hate to sound all religious about it but this is the self-publish bible for me.

It taught me:

  1. The power of FREE (see above)
  2. How to build a product funnel of my work. How to funnel a large audience down through a free book to the second book and then onward to all my work if they make it that far.
  3. How to set up back-of-the-book language and then track those links. Simply the best data I could ever have.
  4. How to keep writing even when I’m despairing over sales or lack thereof.
  5. How to get people to my newsletter and then make them my fans.

If you’re going to self-publish your work, YOU NEED TO KNOW THESE THINGS. Did I tell you to go buy WRITE. PUBLISH. REPEAT.? I think I did but it’s worth saying again.

The other thing that has helped me work on my craft, that craft of spinning a compelling story, is the Writing Excuses Podcast. I used to think that I didn’t have time for podcasts. Most of the ones out there are 45 minutes to an hour long. I have kids who can’t be left alone for 10 minutes much less an hour, and if I DO have that kind of time available, I better be writing. But Writing Excuses is only 15 minutes long (“Because you’re in a hurry, and we’re not that smart.”) So I can listen to it in the car after dropping the kid off at preschool, or when I’m lying on the chiropractor bed getting electric stim on my back, or when I get on the elliptical for a 15 minute exercise session. Each little 15 min podcast is bursting with good information about writing and publishing. They even have guests occasionally (I learned a lot about pacing from James Dashner, author of THE MAZE RUNNER), and they’re always funny and smart. I highly recommend checking them out and all of their podcasts are archived on their website.

What I’m looking forward to in the coming year

Now that my steep learning curve has tapered off somewhat, I’m looking forward to hunkering down and working on new ideas this year. I know how format a book, what (essentially) makes a great cover because I made so-so covers first and then made better ones the second time around, and how to put those books online for others to buy and read them. Now I want to work on the stories in those books. It’s time for me to stretch my fingers and write again like I have nothing holding me back. I’m looking forward to new characters in new situations, old characters finding new lives, and new worlds to be explored. This past year has been focused on the editing and publishing aspect of my books. 2013-2014 will focus on new books, new ideas, and publishing the ones I feel the best about. This year will also be about closing the Nogiku Series chapter and opening new series for new readers to enjoy. I’m really looking forward to seeing where my silly brain takes me. Writing is always a fascinating journey for me, and I hope you can join me on the ride.

Thanks for taking the time to read this today! Feel free to leave any questions or remarks in the comments section. I’m always happy to talk about my experiences!

kissing_heart xo S.J.


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