Sunday, January 02, 2011

Guest Post by L.J. Sellers

Over the next few weeks, I'm going to be spotlighting authors who have been selling a lot of ebooks. By "a lot" I mean near as many as I am, or more.

I can name at least ten authors making a very nice living self-publishing, and most of them don't have the platform, experience, or traditionally published backlist like I do.

There is money to be made, and you don't have to be a midlist writer with years of experience in order to make it.

I Left My Publisher, Gave Up on Bookstores, and Started Making Money
by L.J. Sellers, author of the Detective Jackson mysteries

In January of 2010, I had one book on Kindle and sold 31 copies. I had two print books on the market with a small publisher, and they weren’t selling much better. In December, I had six books on Kindle and sold over 10,000 copies. To get from point A to point B, I had to make some radical decisions.

Several circumstances came together this year that forced me to rethink everything about my publishing career. First, I have to thank Joe for inspiring me to believe that I too could become a successful e-book author. The other incentive came from a round of layoffs in March for both my husband and myself.

I decided I had to stop wasting time and money on things that weren’t working and focus on things that were. What wasn’t working for me was my small publisher, which couldn’t get my books into bookstores. What was working for a lot of people was the growth of e-book sales.
I set aside the novel I was writing and got busy saving my career.

The first step was to rewrite and self-publish on Kindle a standalone thriller I had completed but never sold. I’d once had a big-name agent for it, so I knew it was solid. I also had a second standalone thriller that my publisher had offered a contract for, but I hadn’t signed it yet—because the book wasn’t scheduled to be released until late 2012. That seemed like an eternal and foolish wait. I had a mortgage to pay immediately. What made sense was to get the two thrillers into the digital world where readers were buying. I took the second major step and let my publisher know I was withdrawing my standalone.

I spent a couple months rewriting and updating the stories, then I paid for editing and cover design. I withdrew the money from my miniscule retirement account and considered it an investment in my future.

In August, I published the two thrillers (The Baby Thief and The Suicide Effect) on Amazon’s DTP. At that point, I had one foot in each world. I was self-published, but I still had a traditional press for my series.

Next, I rerouted my promotional efforts toward e-book readers. I quit sending marketing material to bookstores and instead joined several Kindle forums, where I participated in discussions. I got more active on Goodreads and did five back-to-back book giveaways just for the exposure. I wrote a dozen guest blogs and sent them all over the Internet.

My sales jumped significantly. By then my publisher had uploaded the second Detective Jackson story (Secrets to Die For) to Kindle, and I started thinking about how much money I could make if my publisher wasn’t keeping most of my digital profits.

After the third Jackson book (Thrilled to Death) faced the same difficulty getting into bookstores, I decided withdraw from my press. It took a few weeks to finally make the call. Who willingly gives up a second publishing contract? Taking back my series meant foregoing the industry’s stamp of approval. I hated to let it go, but I felt I had no choice if I wanted to make a living.

So I called my publisher and asked for my Kindle rights back. I also asked to be released from the contract for the fourth Jackson story (Passions of the Dead). I knew the manuscript had not been edited, so no time or money had been invested. My publisher was not happy, but graciously granted my requests.

Letting go of that contract was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Not only did it mean taking on the “self-published” stigma, it also meant giving up book signings, which I love. But I had looked into the future and determined that bookstores were not where most people would buy their novels in 2012. For once, I wanted to be ahead of the curve.

I sent my Jackson files to be converted to e-books, then uploaded my versions to Amazon, as my publisher took hers down. At that point, I had five books selling on Kindle, and my numbers were getting better every month. While the last manuscript was out for editing and cover design, I bought an inexpensive ad on the Kindle Nation newsletter and increased my online promotional efforts. Sales took another huge leap.

When I released the fourth Jackson story on Kindle, I dropped the price of the first book in the series (The Sex Club), to $.99. Sales for the first book skyrocketed, and a week later, sales for the follow-up stories nearly doubled.

I’m also fortunate that Mystery Scene magazine has been supportive, giving me great reviews and featuring me as an author. I received another terrific review in its Holiday issue and that pushed both e-book and print sales.

Yes, I’ve made all my books available in print through CreateSpace, and I’ve contracted with INgrooves to target all the non-Kindle devices and libraries too.

Interesting side note: For the fourth Jackson book, I made more money from Kindle sales in the first two weeks than I had made from my publisher in two years. If I had stayed with the contract, that book would not have been released for another nine months. Life is too short to wait for someone else’s publishing schedule.

Now in December, I have six e-books on the market, with all the royalties coming to me. The Sex Club consistently ranks in one of the top three spots on Kindle’s police procedural list, and the three other Jackson books are almost always in the top 20 or 30 on the same list. I’m happily writing a fifth Jackson story and calling myself a full-time novelist.

Joe sez: L.J. is a perfect example of all the things I'm constantly harping about:

1. Good books.
2. Good covers.
3. Good book descriptions.
4. Low prices.

She was smart enough to leave her publisher, and savvy enough to do a lot of marketing, including giving away freebies and working the social networks. By treating this as a business, and acting like a pro, she's managed to hit a lot of Kindle bestseller lists. She also has a backlist of several books; which is akin to shelf space in a brick and mortar store. The more books available, the more customers who will see them.

10,000 ebooks in a month is damn impressive. If she keeps this up, she's going to make a nice chunk of change in 2011, and beyond.

Here are some other successful self-pubbing writers whom I've interviewed, or who have guest posted on my blog: