Christina here. I’d like to welcome back Virginia Carmichael for Part II of A Writer’s Journey
If you remember what happened last time, we followed a simple flow chart to see if self-publication was a good fit for you.
Now I’ll get to my personal story of how I started self pubbing. All of those boxes on the flowchart led me to this point in January 2013. My husband had been laid off for a few months and although we had a wonderful Christmas because it’s about family and not presents etc., etc., etc. it was still sobering (okay, it was downright frightening) to look at our non-existent bank funds. Of course we were praying for some kind of financial breakthrough, but I just didn’t see it arriving like a bolt out of the blue. I felt God was telling me that I was already holding what I was seeking.
I prayed that God will give us what we needed and He said, “You’ve got it.”
I waited, confident in that answer.
He said, “No, you really got it. Already. In your hands.”
I stared around a little. (You can imagine God heaving a big sigh.)
Then I clued in. RIGHT! I had books.
I didn’t know anybody who was self-publishing (besides just a few names on facebook). I didn’t know anything about formatting or getting a book ready to submit to Amazon. I didn’t know about platforms or file sizes or covers.
Sounds like a recipe for success, right???
Hm. Well, on January 1st of 2013, without telling a single soul, I put up a book called ‘Pride, Prejudice, and Cheese Grits’ here. (Remember that Bridget Jones Diary idea but without the swear words and the sex? Yeah, I still had it.) My kids were watching a Christmas movie. My husband was taking a shower. I wasn’t nervous about putting it up on Amazon because I DIDN’T KNOW WHAT I WAS DOING!
I’d created a terrible little cover from a free site. (This is not it. I won’t show you that one.) You could hardly read the title. I’d formatted it with Calibre (which apparently has the worst record for formatting anything, although it’s free). I didn’t have it edited because I didn’t want to pay anything out of pocket.
Are you sensing a theme? I did it all for free, because basically I had no money.
Cool. There it was. And no one was buying it. So, after a week of no sales, I checked out some sites like J.A. Konrath’s blog. He talked about free runs. Oh! I didn’t know I could do that! I enrolled in KDP (Amazon’s exclusive site) right away.
On the next weekend, it was downloaded two thousand times and I actually got a good review!! And then I got bad reviews. The formatting was terrible. There were typos. The cheese grits never really appeared in the story.
Around this time my agent and I decided we didn’t share the same vision for my career. I kept talking like it was a business, when my sales were saying ‘hobby’. I kept outlining plans for book after book, under different names, different genres, different series, when Love Inspired was my only publisher. I thought there was room for just ONE MORE Jane Austen book, even if it was set in Southern academia and had two Civil War historians as the main characters. We parted ways and I decided I was going to go full-tilt on self-publishing, to see if I could make any money at all. Anything would be better than nothing. Anything was better than the bottom-of-the-barrel bank balance we had.
The best thing about digital is your book is not set in stone. With every new review, I cleaned it up as much as possible. I reformatted following another guide I found. I made another cover (again, by myself, and I still sort of like it) that was more like a romance and less like an academic tome. I also added some recipes at the end.
It started to sell. Not really quickly, but in the next few weeks I made about $400. To me, that was HUGE. Why? Because I did it myself. And it felt really, really good.
In February, I put up a historical called ‘All The Blue of Heaven’ here. I wrote it back in 2010 and it had never found a home. It had a terrible cover (again, I didn’t want to spend any money yet) but I had better formatting, my sister edited for free (love her!!) and I put it up for free right away since that seemed to be the right way to start sales.
That first run it was downloaded 15 thousand times. When I put it up for .99, it went right to the top of the historical Christian fiction charts. COOOOOL!
In the next few months, I paid for covers and edited constantly whenever anyone complained of a typo. But most of the time, there were some really good sales and reviews.
In March I got call from Shana Smith, offering to buy the second in my series, the sequel to the book that came out Nov. 2012. It’s set for Nov. 2013. Cool!
In April, I joined the self-publishing loop on Yahoo and learned there was a method to this madness. Beyond the usual ‘write a book and publish it’, there were all sorts of tricks and tips to sales.
What did I learn? I’ll condense what I know so far, which is a very tiny part of what the really big movers and shakers know and practice on a daily basis. You can say this is just an opinion, but every time I’ve tried it, on every book, it’s worked. I have four books now on the top Christian fiction romance lists, and it’s not by accident. What Marie Force has shared, along with many other NYT bestsellers, on that loop has been nothing short of a crash course in how to be successful.
ONE- Low price. You can make much more by selling two hundred copies a day of a .99 book that sits on the top spot, than by selling ten copies a day of a 2.99 book that is invisible. You keep .35 (about what I get from my Love Inspired books) of .99 but that makes $70 a day. You can’t imagine giving away your baby for less than $2.99? You keep $2 of $2.99 but you’re only selling ten, so you’re making only $20 a day. People talk about fair price. I like to look at the bottom line. Unless I’m famous and a NYT bestseller, I’m not going to get away with pricing my book above .99. And since I actually make more that way, it’s all good. See how this works? I don’t feel like I’m giving my book away. I’m feeling… like I’m making some money.
TWO- good editing. I still get slammed when people get around to reading an old copy of that first book. It’s cleaner now, but that won’t help those one stars. Once I had money coming in, I paid for editing. Every book still has typos. Even my LI books have typos. But it’s cleaner than trying to find them with just me and my old eyes.
THREE- invest back into the book. Whatever you make, take 30% and put it back into your business. Maybe that means your office, supplies, chair, massages, lattes, whatever. For me, it meant great covers. They cost about $235 a cover and I love them. LOVE. I don’t think my books would have gotten to the top of the charts (free or paid) with the old covers.
Despite what you hear, people will not download just anything that is free. It still has to look good. Kindle space isn’t infinite. You put your book up for free and if it has a bad cover and typos in the blurb, you’re not going to crack that all-important top 100 Free list.
FOUR- if you’re writing a series, set the first for free WHEN you put out the next in the series. Really, it works. The second time I put up Pride, Prejudice, and Cheese Grits for free, I paid for a Bookbub ad. It was $120 and I had 70 THOUSAND downloads. You read that right. And on the self-pub lists, they say you’ll get about 1% of those reviewing. I went from 28 reviews to 210 in 3 weeks and they’re still coming in. The book sells about 100 copies a day at .99 so I can’t tell who’s reviewing a free book and who’s not, unless they say that, but I’m just glad I’m getting any reviews at all. With self-publishing, reviews are gold.
There’s also a certain percentage of those that will buy the second in the series. I put up ‘Emma, Mr. Knightley and Chili Slaw Dogs’ on the same day as my big free push of the first in the Austen Takes the South series. I started it at 2.99. From day one, it’s sold about 30+ copies a day. So, $60 a day, right off the bat… NOT TOO SHABBY!
You see the method to the madness? I was starting to clue in. I needed to work on these series but I also had books on the hard drive that I needed to get off my mind. So, I’m alternating between putting up books in a series and stand-alone books from the hard drive.
My traditional contract has a non-compete clause, so all of these books had to be passed by my Harlequin editors. My next book took a while to get rejected and I was sweating bullets. I’d made a mistake and already PAID FOR A COVER! Duh. Don’t do that. If they had made an offer on the book, I would have been out $170. But Shana Smith sent it back to me as not quite right for LI, so I was free to throw it up on Amazon.
It went up July Fourth, for a free run. It’s a single title, not part of a series, so after two days and 12 thousand downloads, I put it up for .99. It sold 150 copies a day, from the very first day. On July 14th, it was number one on the Christian romance charts and sold 600 copies.
So, here we are, back again at why I’m doing what I’m doing and if it’s right for you. (Are you a square peg in a round hole?) There are many kinds of self-publishing, but this is the one I chose. I’ve never regretted it. Not for one single moment. It’s been life-changing for my husband, for my kids, for our family, for my extended family and for myself. I can see this as a business now. I can see a lot of things that I just couldn’t imagine even seven months ago.
Thanks again to Christina for inviting me to your blog and I hope that sharing my story will help anyone make the decision to take their writing career to a place that’s right for them. Whether you stay with a traditional publisher, go all indie, or become a hybrid, may God bless your every effort and give you wisdom in all your choices!
Christina here. Boy, I’m a square peg trying to fit in a round hole. How about all of you? Leave a comment and be entered for a chance at one of Virginia’s books. Winner’s choice. Digital or hard copy, except Leaving Liberty (digital only). United States residence only for hard copy.