Friday, March 11, 2011

Guest Post by Selena Blake

I asked Selena Blake to do a guest post back in January, and she did, but I haven't had a chance to post it until now. At the end of her post there's an update on her sales figures.

The Times They Are A-Changin'
By Selena Blake

Like so many authors, I’ve been reading Joe’s blog with a great deal of fascination. And dare I say, skepticism. For six months now I’ve wondered if Joe was for real or just pulling my leg. In my defense, you know what they say about something that sounds too good to be true.

At the same time, I was hopeful that his success wasn’t a solitary event and that his background in traditional publishing wasn’t solely responsible for his current success.

I've been in the publishing industry for over ten years now. A few years ago I decided it was time to try my hand at getting published. As a long time fan of ebooks, I worked out a marketing plan and career path that started with publishing digitally. I found a well recommended ebook publisher in my genre, submitted and had an offer four days later. They really liked the book and my series concept. Though that publisher bought five books from me and most of them sold well, my background is in marketing and I always thought I could reach a larger audience.

When my publisher gave me one reason after another as to why my books wouldn't/couldn’t be distributed through venues such as Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Smashwords, I was aghast.

Distribution is key, in my opinion.

I started my independent publishing journey with one novella that I really liked but wasn't quite right for the publishers I'd submitted it to. After playing the waiting game for over three years I published Surprising Darcy to Amazon and Smashwords in August of 2010. That was about the time I found Joe’s blog. And shortly after, Pubit came on the scene. I was making around $300 a month total, which to me was fabulous! That's a car payment. But I still thought I could do better.

I had to build my list of books on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. When my contracts were up with my publisher in the autumn of 2010, I took the books back.

I released the first book in my series, The Cajun’s Captive, on December 29, 2010. That same day I published another short story from my “early publishing days” and gave it a new title, Just a Little Taste.

In mid January I released my fourth self published ebook, Bitten in the Bayou, which is the second in my series.

At the time of writing this, I’ve sold just over 12,000 copies in less than a month.

12,000 copies. That number truly blows my mind. Actually, I almost fell out of my chair.

Now, instead of just paying the car payment, royalties from January’s sales will cover ALL my expenses. That’s an incredibly beautiful and humbling thought. And I’m terrified that I’ll wake up tomorrow and it will all have been a dream. I imagine a great many of the authors Joe has allowed to guest blog here lately feel that way, even though Joe keeps telling us, we’re not dreaming.

If you’re looking for an anomaly, of those 12,000 copies about 11,000 sold via Nook. Not Kindle. I sold a little over 1,000 copies on the Kindle in January. My numbers at Kindle get a little better each month and I like to think of that platform as my steady seller.

With numbers like this, I’m rethinking that original career plan. And the marketing plan too. And even the books I write. Where I once planned on digital publishing being my introduction to the industry and would later go after print contracts, I’m now much more focused on writing novels and letting them just be ebooks. Ebooks are real books.

Do I still want a publisher in addition to self publishing? Yes. Why? To further increase my audience and for the dedicated staff. These days I’m much more concerned about working with people who understand and embrace this new frontier, those who are keen on exploring and taking risks. I’m interested in working with publishers who understand that distribution and promotion are very important. I want to partner with companies that are aggressively pursuing all options and who understand that publishing is a business. An ever evolving business.

Do I have any interest in “traditional publishing?” Not really. Not the way traditional publishing has been defined for the last few decades. I think we are at a point where the rules are being rewritten, new lines are being drawn in the sand, and publishers as we used to know them are changing forever. What an exciting time to be an author.

If you’ve read Joe’s blog for any length of time, you’ll have noticed his comments on the downward spiral of these “traditional publishers.” I’ll let Joe speak for himself, but I believe that publishers need to “get with the program” if they’re going to survive.

Getting with the program, in my opinion, means embracing digital publishing, becoming more flexible and offering their backlist books in e-formats. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say that digital needs to completely replace print publishing, I know that I haven’t bought fiction in print for quite a while. I still like a full color cookbook for my collection or perhaps a lovely coffee table book, but my purchasing habits have changed. As have the purchasing habits of millions of other consumers.

the times they are a-changin’. I remember the days when ebook authors were looked upon like second class citizens by friends, family, consumers, and writing organizations. I’ve watched this little corner of the market grow from a time where there were only a handful of digital publishers and we readers were still waiting to get our hands on an actual ereading device. Over time more epublishers cropped up and we ebook fans waited for ereaders to hit a lower price point, somewhere between $100 and $150. For years, experts agreed that if we could get a popular ereading device at a low enough price point, digital books could really take off.

Guess what? We’re there.

The question is where do we go from here? Continued education of the public. I met a lovely reader on Twitter the other day who did not know Kindle has an app for the PC. When I mentioned that to her, she downloaded it and I sent her a complimentary copy of The Cajun’s Captive. She loved it and has since spread the word about me and my books.

I had another reader email me asking what the Kindle is. Yes, there are still folks who don’t know what the Kindle is. As authors (and ebook fans,) it’s our duty to educate them, write good books, and spread the word.

If you think you’d like to give it a go, here are some of my observations. I’m by no means an expert so take them with a grain of salt.

1. Be Professional
To me, it means looking at your writing like a business. Making sound business decisions. That may mean hiring a professional cover artist and editor. Spending money (when you really need to!) to make money, as LJ Sellers did.

2. Publish Clean Copy
It’s not enough to write the book. You need to polish it. Luckily, most of my current releases had been previously published which means that I polished them a lot before I sent them to my editor where they went through three more rounds of editing. I got to keep those edited copies. As Joe says, have your betas and fellow authors proof your work. I’m lucky enough to have two editors as friends.

3. Use Professional Cover Art
The saying goes: never judge a book by its cover. But we all do it anyway. Why would you want to submit a small, fuzzy, hard to read cover to sell your book? You wouldn’t roll in the mud before going into a job interview would you?

4. Promote
I’ve done plenty of it. I’ve joined message boards, yahoo groups, Goodreads, Shelfari. I have a website and a blog and a newsletter. I offer free reads. I’ve joined sites within my niche where I’ve met readers, shared book recommendations and purchased advertising. I also write guest blog posts like this one. And in February I’m going on a blog tour. I have profiles on all the major social networks (Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Shelfari, Myspace, Bebo, Linkdin) and of course, Amazon. The key is interacting, I think. Subtle promo, not drive by promo.

5. Advertising
I’m a big fan of having someone else do my promotion for me while I’m sleeping. So I’ve had advertisements on half a dozen sites over the years and I’m looking to increase this in the future.

6. Distribution
I’ve always felt that distribution is important. When I look at the most successful companies, the ones who pay attention to getting their products into the hands of their customers as easily, efficiently, and cost affectively as possible are generally at the top of the list. With so many options available to us now, making your books available on as many platforms as you can makes sense to me.

7. Be willing to change
Along with the brand new cover art that graces all my current books, I changed the descriptions on many of them as well. I’ve even changed the blurbs more than once. The great thing about digital publishing, in my opinion, is the ability to craft a description that gets more attention. It’s being able to go back and adjust your key words, change your title or cover if you feel you can do better. Adjust your price points. Or even, updating your book.

8. Grow your readership
That sounds trite, doesn’t it? But what I mean, and what I’m trying to do, is meet new readers. Introduce myself to them. Become friends with them. Discover what THEY want to read. Publishers often think they know what readers want and authors often feel like readers should want something out of the ordinary. Independent publishing gives you the flexibility to try something new. To give readers what they say they want.

9. Have a plan
Just like businesses have a business plan and many professionals have a career plan, I recommend having a career plan and a marketing plan. Both of these will help keep you focused and they’ll provide guidance along the way. But don’t carve these into stone. As I mentioned, I had a career path and marketing plan developed way back when. Now I’m readjusting that to include self publishing. And perhaps even a POD anthology of my Stormy Weather series.

10. Writing Another Great Book
The key here I believe is to always be learning, always improving your craft. As Joe mentioned here, there are plenty of popular authors who weren’t the best writers in the beginning. But time and knowledge will allow you to write a better book. And when you write a better book, that should help you sell better.

There it is. My publishing journey thus far and my observations, for what they’re worth, on self publishing.

By the way, I no longer think Joe is pulling my leg.

What about you? Are you a self-publishing convert? A disbeliever? Or do you just feel more secure going the traditional publishing route? What do you think are key aspects of doing well as an independently published author?

Joe sez: To date, Blake has sold 23,000 ebooks. Which is impressive. I expect she'll begin to sell as well on Amazon as she is on Nook, and will eventually work her way up to a six figure annual income, selling 99 cent titles.

While I agree with much of what she has to say, I think advertising is pretty much a waste of money (any time I've done it I haven't noticed an uptick in sales, let alone one big enough to justify the cost of the ad.)

And while having a business plan is fine, it's important to differentiate between what you can accomplish on your own (writing and uploading an ebook, getting killer cover art) and what requires luck (selling 23,000 ebooks, making the Nook bestseller list.)

A goal is something you can attain through hard work. Dreams are things that require crossed fingers.

Luck is ALWAYS a factor in success, no matter how you publish.

That said, since January 1st I've profiled more than 15 authors who are doing extremely well self-pubbing, and I've turned down requests from many others who want to guest post.

Seems like a lot of writers are getting lucky with ebooks.

That doesn't mean everyone will hit the jackpot. But I'm convinced is better off going solo than trying to work through legacy publishing.

So if you're an author, what exactly are you waiting for?