Around May 1st, I'll enter my second year as an indie author. I thought readers and fellow writers might like to hear the tale of a total newb.
I'm the author of the Lunara series. A three book sci-fi trilogy chronicling the adventures of the crew of the Protector as they fight for freedom on the Moon and Mars. I started writing the series way back in 2002 and have published three books, almost published two books, and outlined three more. I finally found the courage to release the books in May of 2011.
The Adventure Begins
In March of 2011, I got my first book, SETH AND CHLOE, back from the editor and it was shiny and new. I had visions of great success wrapped up in the email I received. Quickly, I unwrapped it and fired the manuscript off to several agencies and publishers trying to hook one. After two months and several canned denials, I was beginning to rethink how I should sell the series. I don't have ANY connections to the publishing world. I don't even know the guy who publishes the suburb newsletter. I decided, in a matter of a few days in mid-April, that I would never get published because I didn't know anyone. I figure its a long shot to get published and a lottery tickets chance if I don't know anybody.
I researched the self-publishing craze like a madman for a week solid. I found out about KDP, Pubit, and smashwords and narrowed my eBook choices down to them. Createspace was really my only Print choice so I scrapped the rest and went with them.
I'm a computer guy and after learning how to edit my manuscript to ePub and Mobi formats, I tested and formatted my book to near professional quality. Only one big issue remained, a cover! I can draw a passable stick man but after that, it is like a two year old drunk with a pen. I went on crowdspring.com (free plug) and found the best cover guy on the site. He, along with several other talented designers, created a cover and I chose his (It is at the top of this page and he created all my covers). I was really pleased with my cover for SETH AND CHLOE and I knew my cover would grab a few peoples attention and wouldn't turn anyone off to the book.
Now, I can't deny, like anyone else who publishes books, releases music, or creates an app, that I envisioned a grandiose reception to my series. I was the #1 best seller in under a month. But I am realist at heart and my 'real' goal was to sell one book to one stranger...my mom and wife don't count. Now, I don't need to sell the books for fame or money or a career. I have a solid job and I have a supporting family. I write for fun and to relieve stress. I don't need to be a writer to pay the rent (thank the heavens!). This contributed to my confidence that self-publishing was the way to go for me. I had a professionally edited book and the means to get it on amazon.
Something nagged me still. What if my book was awful and unreadable? My wife said it was good. My editor (who I pay) said it was enjoyable to work on and was sellable to a publisher. But family and the guy you pay aren't the best critics. I needed an outsider but again, I knew NO ONE. I bit the bullet and would publish anyways. What is the worse that can happen? You're awful and no one reads it. No one would read it if I kept it on my computer for 8 more years. I did that from 2002 to 2010, lived in fear of how bad it was. I just did it for fun. How could it be good?
Towards the end of April/early May, I had the cover and the manuscript. I went to KDP(amazon's kindle direct publisher) and Createspace and submitted the files for publication. BLAMMO! In under 18 hours, I was live and ready to sell. The first thing I did was buy a copy for myself. Three reasons, 1) I wanted to check the delivered formatting (check), 2) I wanted to see how KDP reported sales (check), and 3) I wanted a sale (sorta check).
Then I waited three days for the action to begin. No one bought it.
I released it on Smashwords (apple, kobo, etc) and Bn.com. No one bought it.
"How are you going to market you book?" This is like asking an indie author how they would like their colonoscopy done. Marketing your book is the single worse experience a person can go through. At least to a regular old American Joe with little concerns but his own daily life. Why can't everyone just read my book?! Then reality hits. Because you need to sell it.
I started my marketing with the regular google searches for book forums and blogs. I entered several of these forums and found in big bold print: "NO SELF PROMOTION OR WE WILL DROP KICK YOU." Apparently, I'm not the first one to think of this idea, nor the thousandth or ten thousandth. So I fell in line and submitted my book to the appropriate forums. No one bought it.
My First Review
My first time, such a exciting yet painful experience. I had been submitting my book for review to fifty or so sites and I finally got someone to grab on and give it a chance. Bonnie at bookishardour.com was kind enough to give me a review. She doesn't generally read sci-fi so I was a bit skeptical of how she would receive it. I mailed her a print copy (all the way to Australia) and waited. It took three weeks, but she finally replied that she was going to post it to her site and wanted an author interview. I gave her the interview and she posted her fantastic review. I received a 4/5 stars with a wonderful review. Now, 4/5 to me was like getting a 110 out of 5. I was really excited that a non-scifi fan liked and would even recommend the book to other non-scifi fans. This gave me a jolt. A stranger had given me a good review of my work. I felt like a real author for the first time and not some pretender.
My first "real" sale
I can't really say when my first real sale was, but it was sometime in June of 2011. I had been pushing my book on twitter a bit, on the forums, and on some amazon forums. I would check my KDP account daily as I had been giving away FREE books to some people. I noticed that I registered a sale. I pumped my fist like Tiger Woods used to do. Finally! Maybe my pestering has brought someone to their knees. I wish I could thank the person who bought the first book, but amazon doesn't release that info for good reason. (Thanks if you are reading...and probably don't know.)
This sale energized my belief in the series. Yes, one sale did it. If one person can find it, so can hundreds more. I just need to find the formula.
I decided at that point to pony up the thousands of dollars to get my two other books edited. I believe a properly edited book is more important than anything. You can get someone to proofread it but only a pro can make it a near professional book...but that philosophy is for another post. I submitted the second book, GWEN AND EAMONN, to my editor and had to wait a few months to get it finished. This was in September and I would get it mid-October.
From July to November, I would call this period my lull. I continued my futile marketing efforts of google ads, facebook ads, and forum postings. I sold approximately 1.5 books a week over those four months. Through the purchases and free books, I received seven to ten reviews on goodreads and a few on amazon. A steady mix of 4s and 5s, which encouraged me. Still I was missing something in the marketing.
I released my 2nd book at the start of November of 2011. I sold a few more SETH AND CHLOE at the time, but nothing major. Perhaps five more than usual.
In December, I received an email from Amazon mentioning a new select program where you could offer your book exclusive to amazon select members and also get a few FREE days. I thought that since I was getting 90% of my sales from amazon anyways, why not submit my books to amazon exclusively and maybe get a bump in sales. I had a conspiracy worked out that amazon might feature these books more than non-select books. So I did it.
I offered my first of five free days without promo help and gave away 350 free books. I was very pleased with this. I got no sales money, but I did get three hundred potential mouths to talk about my book (I am not naive...there is a segment of kindle users who just collect free books so I always divide my potential readers in half when I see a FREE total).
What I wasn't expecting was that I would sell (for money) 20 books the next day for real cash money. And two weeks after that, GWEN AND EAMONN got some action with 10 books sold.
I used my four remaining free days over a three week spread until the end of my 90 days in the select program. Each time learning a better way to give way the free books. I managed to sell MORE and MORE books of SETH AND CHLOE and GWEN AND EAMONN with each successive days. My formula was starting to come into focus.
The Release of PARKER AND THE PROTECTOR
The release of PARKER AND THE PROTECTOR was a turning point in the LUNARA series. I had an entire trilogy (story arc) for people to read. I could market it as such and it would allow readers to purchase a chain of books from me. P&P was released in late February 2012 and I had a final BLOWOUT free select day on March 1st. I had four different blogs kind enough to promo my book for free. I exploded in FREE books of S&C and over the next two weeks I chained together sales of G&E and P&P.
By the end of my select experience, I had risen my "real" sales in each month from Decemeber to March, minimum of doubling each month. I owe a huge thanks to Amazon for their program and to the blogs for promoting me.
But KDP Select wasn't the biggest reason I sold my books....
My Twitter friends
Lets flash back to November, I read a few "How-To Market your eBook" blogs and books. They were of little help because they replied on outlandish or outdated ideas. One write-up told the author to write a viral blog where-by you can drive traffic to your blog and thus people will buy your book. WHAT! If I could write a viral blog at will, I would be on Madison avenue or I just would write a viral book. Blah.
The best idea I discovered in my searches was just being friends with everyone on twitter. Now, I'm an introvert by nature so it isn't easy for me to make friends. But the more I exchanged my ideas, my thoughts, my frustrations, my successes, my life stories, the more friends on twitter I received. I would call them followers but those are faceless beings. I'm talking about good honest friends. I have several of them that I retweet with and ask advice from and talk junk with. My friends would talk about my book with others in tweets which would make people aware of my book. This drove people to me and I would offer them a FREE copy of S&C. Once they read it, some would want more. I have several loyal readers because of the friends I made on twitter. I would like to think I directed a few readers towards my fellow authors too. Hopefully I have because I am grateful for all my retweets and recommendations. The co-op nature of indie authors is the biggest reason for my first-year progress/success (at least my measure of success).
With the closing of my first year in the indie publishing world, I consider it a giant success from several points of view. I learned a ton about the indie publishing world. I gained huge confidence in my LUNARA series and its future. I also sold more books than what is considered the average for an indie author, 100. (I read 100 is the average somewhere but I could never find it again.) And lastly, I gained tons of friends who are fighting like I am.
The next year I hope to more than double my book offerings. I have two books almost ready to be released in the fall. I have three more books I want complete by May 2013. I would then have eight books on the market. This would be a terrific milestone for me.
As I said before, I don't release my books for the fame or the money (but it would be nice). I do it as a hobby. I pay for the editing and expect a loss on capital because I enjoy releasing the books. People ask me if I made my money back. Maybe, maybe not. I ask them: Do you make your money back when you go on a three thousand dollar skiing trip? Uh, no. My books are my trips or my log cabin or my boat.
I hope the indie publishing world can improve for its writers in the coming years and more success stories arise. For right now, I love the platform and I will continue to lay my adventures upon it. Here's to year two!