self-publish

With Amazon, B&N and other venues making it so easy to publish a book, there’s lots of talk in the publishing world about editing.

When I first started writing I believed I’d send my manuscript in and some editor-type person would have a look at it, tell me they liked it, but …

And I thought that “but” would be how to improve, make it stronger and yes, could they please send me an advance check and they’d be happy to work with me to get my manuscript ship shape and on the local bookstore, Target and Wal-mart book shelves.

Ha! Make that a hearty, roll on the floor, bust a gut, hahahahahahahahaha!

What I’ve learned in the years since I submitted my first manuscript is that publishing companies don’t have the resources to take a newbie writer and help them polish. Agents don’t want to represent someone who is still learning the craft. I’m not criticizing … I’m just stating fact.

I do think there was a time when publishing houses molded and refined a manuscript. But that was loooong before the first “Once Upon a Time” ever got typed on my computer. I used to quake in my shoes when I read the words “polish to one inch of your manuscript’s life” on the submission guidelines for an agent or a publishing house. I don’t anymore, because I get it.

After I write my manuscript, I have a couple friends read it. Does it flow? Is it free of typos? Did I answer all the questions for the suspense plot? Did I do a reasonable job of making you care about the hero and heroine? I’ve got some awesome friends who are amazing when it comes to that stuff and I wouldn’t have the confidence to continue to submit my work if it weren’t for the efforts they put in for me.

Then, and only then, after I’ve gone through it line by line and they’ve gone through it line by line do I submit. That’s what the publisher/agent wants to see. They aren’t interested in seeing the first draft of my work. Heck, half the time, I’m not interested in the first draft of my work. 😀

But once the manuscript is accepted … that’s only the beginning. One of my novellas … which will remain nameless 😉 had to have a couple scenes rewritten before it even went into editing. No problem. I happily made the changes because the suggestions were awesome observations by the acquisitions editor.

Not all publishers edit the same and you should be aware of this before going through the process. There are some who simply do line edits … look for typos, misplaced or missing commas or the wrong “there”, “they’re” or “their” word. That kind of stuff. The editing department isn’t looking for plots that don’t come together or storylines that aren’t complete. They assume the author has done that already. Just be aware your potential publisher may fall into this category and make sure your novel(la) has been read by more than one person and all the ends are tied up (or not if it’s a series) satisfactorily.

Fortunately for me, the publishers I’ve worked with have full service editing department. That means the editors I’ve worked with (and I’ve had some amazing editors in my writing journey), point out poor wording choices or plot inconsistencies. (They’ve all given up trying to teach me about comma placement … I’m a hopeless cause when it comes to that. As a couple of them have said, I sprinkle commas like a pepper shaker.) Fortunately I’ve only had one who’s actually tried to change wording which actually changed my voice, but understood when I stuck to my guns. You have to remember, an editor’s job is to push me to write the best story I can.

Now that I’m looking to self-publish my first original book, I need to find a freelance editor. I won’t have a trusted person at a publisher looking through my book. I’m gonna tell you, it’s just a little intimidating, but I feel more comfortable knowing I’ve been through this process and I know what I’m looking for in an editor. It certainly will make it easier searching for someone who fits with my style.

Editing doesn’t hurt … it’s an awesome learning process for me. And I’m grateful to the publishers I’ve worked with who are so thorough with their editing. So don’t be intimidated when a publisher/agent asks you to edit your manuscript before you submit. They aren’t looking for you to be a NYT best seller right of the starting block … they just want to know that you care enough to send them your very best work.

So it’s been a month since I shared sales figures for my self-published romantic suspense series. In the spirit of full disclosure I thought I’d share what’s happened since I put the first book in my series up for free! I have to tell you, there are still LOTS of people who cringe that authors are doing this for fear it may set up 1) unrealistic sales expectations for readers or 2) that it is devaluing the time and talent required to write a full novel. But as you’ll see, this is working for me.

I didn’t enroll these short novels in the Kindle Select program where Amazon asks for exclusivity to any books in that program. They also offer authors the opportunity to take advantage of 5 free days during the 90 day period it is in the select program. This just didn’t seem to fit for my books and I chose to upload my book through Smashwords and have it distriubted for free to all venues save for Amazon. Once the lower price was reported to Amazon, my book was price matched at the $0.00.

And I want to repeat what I said last month. There are many authors making goooood money through self-publishing. Some of these authors are even being courted by Amazon to pull their book from the virtual self-publishing shelves and sign a contract with their Montlake publishing arm. There are many success stories, including Debra Holland, who has also been forthcoming about her sales success with her self-published series. But remember it ain’t all roses and royalty checks for everyone.

And there isn’t one right path to success in the self-publishing business. What works for me and my books, may not work for you. The only consistency is writing the best book you can and making sure it not only is well-edited, but also presented in the correct format for the platform whether it be kindle, nook, sony or iTunes. So don’t hesitate to try different price points or different methods of promotion. Find out what works for you.

Listing the first book in my sexy romantic suspense series, BLIND HER WITH BLISS has been a real boost for promoting my books. Following are the sales I posted last month for books released 4/11, 6/11 and 11/11. (Sales figures are just for Amazon, because there weren’t enough others at B&N, Smashwords or ARe to make an impact on my royalties.)

December: 136 books = $142.80
January: 74 books = $84.22
February (until the 20th): 4695 free books 20 books = $40.00 (approx.)

And here are the sales for the full month of Feb and March (to Date). And just a note, I took my books down from All Romance Ebooks because they really weren’t selling over there:

Amazon

Free Downloads: 6280
Deceive Her With Desire: 73 books = $76.65
Cheat Her With Charm: 62 books = $65.10

Barnes & Noble
Free Downloads: 2319 (through Smashwords)
Deceive Her With Desire: 87 = $168.78
Cheat Her With Charm: 56 = $108.64

Apple (through Smashwords)
Total Books:   264 = $448.85
(That’s if I’m reading my Smashwords report correctly. It’s the first time I’ve had sales there, so I’m trying to figure this one out)

So there you have it. It may not be the blockbuster sales other authors are experiencing, but seeing as March is turning out to be my most successful month ever, I’m extremely pleased. I whole-heartedly believe that offering my book for FREE! is working for me. BLIND HER WITH BLISS floats between 15 and 30 on the free romantic suspense list right next to the PAID list. And 25 to 40 on the contemporary list. (It was lower on both lists at the beginning of the month when downloads were at their peak.) Being listed next to the paid books means that readers who search particular categories may peruse books listed for free as well.

B&N doesn’t have a ranking system, but I have no doubt it is the free book that allowed readers to try out a new-to-them author and brought about the sales of the second and third books in the series. Since I haven’t seen any sales at that venue prior to this, it is the only thing I can attribute my sales success this month.

Again, this method might not work for you. But with my sales the highest they’ve ever been, I know offering the first book in my series is working for me. Writers, have you tried something different that worked to get your books noticed? As a reader, what makes you willing to try a new author you’ve never read before?

With so many authors jumping into the self-publishing pond, I thought I’d share my experience. First of all, let me just say, if you weren’t already aware … I found the trek from writer to publisher to be a very steep climb. We’re talking ice crampons, ropes and pick axes (can you tell I’m doing research for a new story?) But one that’s going to be worth the view from the top.

I released my three book series in April, June and October (oops … a couple of months late) of this year. I originally released the first two as erotic suspense, but found, much like my experience at my original publisher, they weren’t romantic enough for the usual romantic suspense reader and not erotic enough for the erotic romance reader. Sales by July were non-existent. So I dropped back, reassessed, redid the covers and cut back on all the sex in the stories and put them back up as sexy romantic suspense. They are very slowly hitting their stride.

I’ve tried different price points, $.99, $1.49 and $2.99 (the last one to get the 70% royalty on Amazon). Price didn’t seem to be a factor. And no one complained about the short novel length even at the $2.99. I’m going to continue to mess with the prices until I find a nice balance between price and sales.

I’ve done a blog tour and advertising for the first two, but since I didn’t see any uptick in sales with all the hard work, I didn’t bother to push the publicity for the most recent release. My sales for all three book have remained about $15/month for Amazon and $5/month at Barnes and Noble since the spring. It may be hardly worth the gas to the bank to cash the check, but I remain undaunted!

I now have the books up at All Romance Ebooks and though sales aren’t brisk at the moment over there, it is another venue for people to find my books.

I am happy to report that being part of the BOOK LOVER’S BUFFET (where every book on the website is $.99) has been a shot in the arm this month. I’ve sold just over 100 books at the posting of this blog with another TWO weeks to the end of the month. Obviously the collective marketing of nearly 100 authors is helping to get the word out.

I’m also looking to do some specialized marketing in January with Pixel of Ink (if my book is approved for an advertising spot), a site where thousands of Kindle readers search for their next read. I’m hoping this will boost sales especially to new-to-me-readers.

So there you have it. Total disclosure. Not the millions some authors are selling. Nor the rocket success of author Catherine Bybee, who recently made the USA Bestseller list with one of her self-published books. But I keep plodding along. I’ve made a resolution to myself for the new year though. I WILL step off this crazy marketing merry-go-round and begin writing again. Funny, how people can’t read a book sitting unfinished on my computer!

I’m always happy to answer questions about self-publishing. Feel free to email me at Nina AT NinaPierce.com I’ll happily share with you what I’ve learned and hopefully steer you clear of some of those hidden pitfalls.

There are so many choices for new authors who want to see their book in the hands of a smiling reader. The road to publication no longer follows a straight path to NY. It is often a twisting maze of luck and perseverence.

With new publishing houses popping up every day and other publishers imploding, leaving authors begging for the manuscripts back, it can be a mine field wading through facts and rumors. Add to that the loud voices of those that are finding gold in the hills of self-publishing and you have a plethora of confusion on what is best for your manuscript.

So where do you start?

First, decide what it is you want from your writing. The satisfaction of seeing your words in print? A little extra income? A living wage and writing full time? What is your ultimate goal? It will certainly give you direction. For me, quite honestly, it was the income. As so many of you know I had to give up teaching due to medical reasons. And though it wasn’t much in the grand scheme of things, my salary did contribute to the family budget. I want to have that again. And I will.

With that in mind I wrote my first book and began sending it out while working on my second book. Rejections piled up and still I wrote and sent out queries on my second book. More rejections followed. I finally stepped back and reassessed, looked at the market (because I wanted income) and wrote a book I thought would fit the erotic romance market which was growing exponentially at the time. I also realized my only avenue wasn’t print, but digital publishers. I queried several new up-and-coming publishers and three well established houses. I got four offers, an offer of re-write and a rejection. One publisher called me directly. Boy, was I thrilled. But I didn’t jump on it. Why? Because it was a publishing house that had been around only a year.

Here’s the thing I did next and I think more authors should take time to do. I emailed random authors on the publisher’s author list. Why? Because they’re in there and know better than anyone how the publisher works. The good, bad and downright ugly. I asked specific questions about editing staff and techniques. About sales and royalty payments. How long from contract to publication. I even asked about percentage of books going to print. Authors are wonderful people and most will be honest … brutally honest, which is what I wanted. Granted, there were some who did not respond to my emails, but that gave me information also.

From these emails I accepted a contract with Liquid Silver Books. And though I no longer have books there, I will be forever grateful to them for giving me such a wonderful start to my writing career. I HIGHLY recommend them and would tell that to anyone who asks. And let me just tell you, two of the four who offered contracts and whose authors never responded to me have recently gone under. Seriously, a little research goes a long way.

And what of self-publication? Another avenue to explore and consider. It’s not as difficult for someone like me who publishes digitally anyway. There are no huge formatting issues for upload so don’t let that slow you down. Nor does the marketing and promotion change. Because if you’re with an e-publisher already, you know the importance of getting out there and marketing your book. So what is there to consider? Editing and cover design, both of which can be a considerable outlay of money. Whether you have the readers who are auto-buys for your books or your looking to begin a readership. All are important things to weigh when you’re thinking of going this route.

There is money out there for sure, but don’t go into self-publication with stars in your eyes. The reality is many people aren’t selling. Many aren’t making money. *slowly raises hand* Sales get sales. If a book doesn’t have sales, it isn’t going to show up on the lists. If it doesn’t show up on lists, it’s not going to get the attention of new readers. And all the great reviews and marketing aren’t going to get your book in front of the general Amazon surfer, which is your ultimate goal. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying don’t go that route. I’m simply saying, like all parts of the publishing world, go into it well informed.

My goal for 2012 is to have my toes dipping in all of the markets, mass market print, digital and self-pubbing. There is no one way that is correct. In this day and age, an author needs to weigh their options and make decisions that fit them best.

There has been a lot of talk on the internet about authors like JA Konrath and John Locke who have made A LOT of money self publishing their books. Heck, even NYT best selling authors are looking to put their backlist up on Amazon, Smashwords and Barnes and Noble. And why wouldn’t they? There is money to be made from digital savvy readers looking for a fix.

Why shouldn’t it be my book?

I’m not going to talk about HOW to do it. There seems to be all kinds of self-help blogs and books about the actual process. Let me just tell you … it’s easy. Don’t be fooled into thinking formatting is something only IT techs can do properly. Seriously, I did it myself and as the saying goes “If I can do it…”

Of course I decided to upload books that had already been edited and published through traditional electronic publishing routes, so a freelance editor wasn’t something I needed to consider. I did have someone design covers, Dar Albert at Wicked Smart Designs worked with me for the Tilling Passions series. I would highly recommend her. Her prices are reasonable and she didn’t charge me for all the “tweaking” stages. 🙂

But I digress. Really I wasn’t going to talk about the process. I want to talk about the results. Though many authors are finding HUGE financial rewards within only a month of putting their book on Amazon, some of us … just aren’t. And we don’t know why. I’ve looked at the marketing studies. I’ve read the blogs of authors who are now paying quarterly taxes for the first time because their sales are overwhelming. I’ve tweeted and facebooked and blogged and toured and … well, suffice it to say … for me nothing has been the magic bullet.

I understand it’s a numbers game. And I’m working on that. The third book in the Tilling Passions series, Arranging Love should be on sale by the end of August. I’ve got two more books that require a major round of edits before they’re ready to go up for sale. But I’d like to have both of those out before next spring. Perhaps that’s the answer. I’m not sure.

I know I’m not alone in this. There are many authors whose sales are lackluster at best. Since I’m on a loop with them, I know they’re out there. So just to let you know, not everyone finds gold in this self-publishing venture, let me share my three months worth of sales for Blind Love:

Kindle: 65
Smashwords: 10
Nook: 18

I understand this is a marathon and not a sprint, still it is a little discouraging when someone on an indie loop I’m on is wondering why her sales dropped below 100 that day and had anyone else experienced the drop. I haven’t experienced the sales. Bleh.

I’m not suggesting anyone shy from self-publishing. Like I said, it’s uber easy to get books up on the three venues I mentioned above. (Though I understand All Romance eBooks is a little more difficult with their formatting requirements.) I really just wanted authors to know that their results may vary.

I am a member of Romance Writers of America. Mostly I keep up my membership because I can then be a member of smaller chapters like Fantasy, Futuristic and Paranormal, Maine Romance Writers and the New England Chapter, all of them full of wonderful authors who offer advice and support my career.

When I started writing six years ago I was alone in the world with no clue how to navigate the waters of the publishing world. I found RWA and then my local Maine chapter. Thanks to them and several RWA sponsored writing contests I was able to learn my craft, hone my writing skills and publish. Of course back then RWA didn’t consider me published because I had chosen to work with Liquid Silver Books, a digital publisher (whom I would highly recommend). With no advance coming to me for my books they considered me little more than a hobbiest. Yeah whatever.

As the electronic industry grew and e-readers became part of the book buyer’s landscape, RWA could no longer ignore the fact that many authors were choosing to contract their books to digital publishers. For many writers, the high percentage of royalties was now outweighing the desire to sell books to publisher with low advances that rarely “earned out”.

RWA now recognizes authors as “officially published” who earn $1000 or more with a single book title either as an advance OR in royalties. Okay, well, no kidding authors of e-books who have received awesome reviews and have a readership have known this for a long time.

But if there’s one truth about publishing … nothing remains the same for long.

Now, authors are finding financial success publishing books directly to Amazon and Barnes & Noble. And RWA has no idea what to do with these authors who earn sometimes more than the traditionally published mid-list author in NY. Because … get this … that author is only a hobbiest. They aren’t looking at their writing career as a profession.

Wai … wha?

It’s true. And there are some authors who are jumping on that bandwagon. Now don’t ask me why, in this time of Amanda Hocking, JA Konrath and Barry Eisler, who are making amazing money publishing their own books, why RWA would NOT consider this a viable publishing option for an author’s career. To me it’s a sound business decision to make sure I’ve tapped into all aspects of the publishing market.

I consider myself a “professional” writer. I intend to contribute substantially to the family budget, not just offer a movie and dinner night to Mr. Nina once a month when my royalty check arrives. But it is the rare author who makes a living wage right out of the starting gate. It takes time to market onesself and find a readership base. When will I consider myself a success? Hmmm, I’m not sure. I suspect every time I reach one goal I’ll be stretching toward another. What I do know is that I can’t decide for someone else how to define their writing.

There are some who really are just happy writing their stories and getting them out into the world, even if they don’t make much money. And others who are happy squeezing their writing time between a fulltime job, kids and the hubster, thrilled to have extra money every month or so to feed their book-buying addiction. Are they not professionals? That’s not for me to decide. And I know that’s not much of an answer.

The truth is, RWA is trying to juggle many writers with a lot of needs. It just seems to me that the organization is once again fighting the US (those who are published with recognized electronic publishers and traditionally published authors making a living wage) vs THEM (everyone still finding their way including those “self-pubbed” to Amazon) battle. I don’t know where the organization is going or what will be decided about authors who make their living publishing direct. I just hope the powers that be are looking at this from all angles, not just the one down their nose.

So, as an author does any of this affect you? And as a reader, does it matter to you where your favorite books come from (recognized pubs or Amazon/B&N directs)?

I’ve been pretty quiet on my own blog about my decision to re-release my Tilling Passions series direct to Kindle and Nook. I LOVE these sisters. I was so stoked when Liquid Silver first released them in 2008. At that time they garnered some readers, but really didn’t find their stride at LSB. Sadly they sat with very little attention. And as much as I love LSB and the publishing family I found over there my purpose isn’t just to publish my books, but to get my stories out to the readers.

Soooo, when the rights reverted back to me, it seemed only logical to dip my toe into this brave, new world of self-publishing. Of course the decision was easier for me as the books had already been through the editing process. I just had DAR ALBERT design new covers and I was off.

Let me just say that many people are panicking about “formatting” their manuscripts to upload to the various sites for sale. Since my books were already formatted for digital publishing it was uber easy for me to upload my book. If you’re thinking about stepping into self-publishing I would highly recommend it. I just see it as being market savvy, spreading my books across many formats as to find the biggest audience. I have the first book on sale now. I hope you’ll check it out.

BLURB:
He’s a shock jock looking to reform. She’s an accountant hoping to cut loose. Can love open their eyes to forever?

Uptight CPA and oldest sister, JULIE TILLING, is the glue that binds her family. Everyone depends on her to do the right thing. When her friend from high school dies and Julie is the only one who believes he didn’t commit suicide, she takes it upon herself to investigate his death.

DAMON COREY didn’t come to Maine to become a shock jock. But when his dream career of becoming a concert pianist seems unobtainable, the radio station’s offer is too good to pass up. When mysterious brunette Jewel, hooks up with him at the night club run by a college frat brother, their one night fling wraps around his heart and makes him believe in love at first sight.

But can Damon expose his inner soul without pushing Julie away or will his enigmatic shock jock persona become Julie’s sexual undoing and reveal him as the missing piece that solves the puzzling questions surrounding her friend’s death?

EXCERPT:
“Does it ever get tiresome watching it?” Julie asked, daring to dip her toe in the waters of seduction.

“What?”

Good, her question threw him off-kilter. “You know. The people and what they’re doing? You see the two men and that woman over there?” Julie leaned to the side so Demon could see around her as she pointed to a shadowed corner of the bar below. “I thought they were dancing, but there’s definitely something more going on.” A nervous giggle escaped her lips. “The man in front is definitely buried deep in the woman, and the man in back…well, I’m not sure what he’s doing. But with their mouths open that way, I’m thinking they’re all really enjoying themselves.” She leaned back, her bottom grazing his thigh.

“Oh, they’re definitely getting it on.” Demon braced his hands on either side of her, pressing the solid plane of his chest against her back. They were both testing the waters. “And yes, I get tired of watching.” He leaned close to her ear, his breath the only thing separating his lips from her skin. “They put in extra spotlights that shine on the platform for me so I don’t have to stare at them all night. I mean, even a saint would get a hard-on seeing people go at it for three hours.” He rubbed against her. There was no mistaking his arousal.

Julie was enjoying their brazen flirtation. “I suppose you’re right.” She turned around to face him, purposefully rubbing her breasts across his chest. He didn’t move. “Did you originally bring me up here to relieve a little of that tension, Demon?”

“I don’t think you want to know what I was thinking before we got in the elevator.”

She tilted her head and cocked a brow, inviting him to share. “Oh, but I think I would.”

“This is probably a very bad idea.” He took a step back, but she moved with him.

She’d come this far and she had no intention of stopping now. “Maybe I was a little tipsy in the elevator, but I’m stone-cold sober now,” Julie said, laying her palm in the center of his chest. Her gaze swept the strong lines of his face, gauging his reaction. Even in the muted light of the office she could see the hunger sparking in his eyes. “We’re way past the stage of chivalry, Demon. I don’t need your protection.” She slid her thigh up his leg, surprised by her own audacity.

“You think that’s what I’m doing?”

She dragged a nail through the dark whiskers along his jaw, thrilling in the quick inhalation of his breath. “Oh, you play the animal, but the heart of a gentle man hides in here.” She kissed the center of his chest, her body warming with the power of her seduction.

“Then it may shock you to learn I intended on having my way with you when we got up here. That phone call pulling Elvis away was his attempt to give me privacy.”

“No more than it would shock you to learn that’s what I’d hoped.”
~~~~~~~~~~~~
BUY Link for KINDLE Lovers
BUY Link for NOOK Lovers
BUY Link for Smashwords

So, while my head was buried in packing paper and boxes the world of publishing sort of imploded. (But I guess in reality, this is nothing new. 😉 )

It took me a couple of days to get my work computer unpacked and put together. But when I did I found all sorts of crazy things had happened in my absence. Like a link to a blog about an author who self destructed over a two star review that in reality … wasn’t that bad. I’m not going to give you a link to the blog because the author had an unprofessional meltdown.

Really, it wasn’t pretty. The whole blog went viral and the author kept shouting inappropriate things in the comments and it became a lesson on what not to do when you get a review that bums you out.

The truth is, sometimes reviews hurt. I’ve gotten 5 star reviews where the reviewer had nothing nice to say and 3 star reviews with glowing quotes. But regardless of how the review makes me feel, it’s not my opinion. Of course I love my stories, I wouldn’t release them out into the world if I didn’t, but not everyone is going to think my baby is beautiful. But my job is to thank them for taking time to read my book and move on. If I’m bummed then it’s my closest friends who hear about it, not the world via some reviewers blog. But hey, bad behavior isn’t limited to authors … so sometimes it happens. We’re all human.

And then there’s the conversation that happened between BARRY EISLER, and AMANDA HOCKING about self-publishing and traditional publishing. Amanda made the news when she made over 1.5 MILLION in 2010 direct selling her books on Kindle. She has authors like me wondering if there’s any chance of duplicating her results.

The truth is, I’ve been in the business less than 6 years. When I first published e-books received little respect. There was nothing like the Nook or Kindle and now, now authors realize that self-publishing is no longer a four letter word and that perhaps there is real money to be made if we skip the middle man (the publisher).

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love both publishers I’ve worked with. They have offered me amazing covers and VERY talented editors. I would never put a book out to the public without an editor giving it the very hard eye that I don’t even sort of have. But when backlist books become available again then an author would be foolish to let the edited manuscript sit on her desktop without at least trying the self-publishing route.

Very soon I will be dipping my toes into that pool and I eagerly wait for the results. Of course I can only hope that a fraction of the readers who own Kindles find my books. An author can only hope to get a fraction of the readers Amanda worked so hard to garner.

So what else did I miss in the last week? Any chance everything is fine in Libya and gas prices went down?

Connect