Sunday, 22 September 2013

Fighting through the low times

There comes a point during any self-publisher's journey where you start to doubt yourself. Am I really as good as I think I am? Am I really in the right profession? Should I just give up and try something else?

It's an easy situation to be in, particularly when you're surrounded by people doing a whole lot better than you are. It's easy to let the bitterness slip in, to feel aggrieved or frustrated at someone else's success, particularly when you can't understand why you're unable to replicate it.

There could be a number of reasons why someone is more successful than you.

They might have more books out.

They might have a large friends/family network all wanting to blog/Tweet/Facebook them to give them a chance to get off the ground.

They might have really good books, the kind where someone reads it and just has to tell everyone they know.

They might be writing in a more popular genre.

They might be incredibly business savvy, incredibly hardworking, or incredibly adept at knowing what kind of covers, blurb or pricing works best.

They might be very, very lucky.

A lot of writers say they feel no bitterness, envy or jealously towards other writers. Some of them might be telling the truth. Many will be lying. If you're making a thousand dollars a month it's a lot easier to not feel jealous of someone making $2000, but if you're writing/marketing three hours a day for $10 on a good month, it's a lot easier to feel that frustration, that "why not me?" feeling.

September marks the 18-month mark of my self-publishing adventure. I've published 31 different items under four different pen names, including three full-length novels, half a dozen novellas and several collections of short stories. I even have one work of non-fiction (but it's a secret!)

I've sold roughly 1800 books, more or less 100 a month, which is far, far better than many thousands of indie writers, who are probably going green with envy right now and can only dream of the kind of success I've so far attained. I hope so, I really do.

That's a joke, kind of. I've not made any money. So far this September, only 4 of my 31 titles have registered a paid sale. I think, at the time of writing, I'm still a little in the red.

I work on my books in the majority of my free time, roughly three hours a day on average. That's a lot of time to spend on not making any money (okay, I could be watching TV, which is much worse).

Why don't I make any money? Firstly, I plow it back in. As I got more sales, I invested in better covers, editors, proofreaders. All my novels are now going through a formatter, because I'm not happy just having an uploaded Word document, I want my books to look pro. I want there to be no distinction between my work and say, Stephen King's (although for the most part, my books are a lot shorter ...). I want my books to be awesome inside and out. I'm a complete computer illiterate, so it's easier to farm these tasks out. But that costs a little money.

I've built up a firm base. I have a decent if unspectacular social media platform, and a solid, well-reviewed backlist.

Yet still the doubts creep in. In March or so I gave up doing free promotions on novels. What used to happen was in exchange for some douchebag review or two you'd end up with 50 - 100 sales if you gave enough copies away. It was enough to massage the bank account a little, although the bad reviews always used to hurt. Doesn't matter how many five-star reviews you get, those one-stars really sting.

Suddenly things became hard. Getting reviews was difficult, getting on bargain book promo sites was tricky, getting any sales at all without reducing the price was near impossible. August was my worst sales month since my first, which was only four days long.

Then a couple of days ago I got rejected by a pretty piddly promotion site, after labouring for six months to try to get the prerequisite number of reviews.

I wanted to bury my head in the sand. Am I ever going to get anywhere doing this? Surely after 18 months I deserve a break?

I wanted to get bitter, I wanted to get resentful. I wanted to stand up on a rooftop somewhere and shout, GOD DAMN IT! WHY AREN'T I SELLING ANY BOOKS?? MY BOOKS ROCK BUT NO ONE WILL BUY THEM!! ARE YOU PEOPLE CRAZY??

Or something like that. Then I realised. No one owes me shit. Not Amazon, not other authors, not friends or family. It's just me, and it's all up to me. And that list of stuff other people are doing that makes them sell better? Not my problem. My problem is my books, and my books only.

You have to fight through the bad times. You have to get proactive and not turn into one of the whiny little pricks you find in places like the KDP Forums, the kind that will go and one-star more successful authors just to feel better about themselves. I've never done it, but I've had it happen to me, and it sucks.

You might be struggling to stay afloat in a sea of internal negativity, but you HAVE TO DO IT. DO NOT GIVE UP. You have to reach and reach and reach for that olive branch of positive energy that's dangling over you and haul yourself up it on to dry land.

Here's what you have to do.

1. Write more books. Obvious, but so true. No one can totally control the market, but one thing you can do is keep churning out those words, and the more books you have out the more chance you have of having one take off.

2. Become a better writer. All I ever here is "how can I sell books?", when you should be asking, "How can I write better books?" The same way as with everything else. LEARN. Buy study guides, listen to advice from other writers, watch online lectures, practice. You want to be so good that anyone who buys one of your books has no choice but to buy all the others.

3. Get proactive about marketing.

Research. Try new places. Bust ass looking for reviewers. There are huge lists of review bloggers out there, you just have to contact them. You need five reviews to get on Bookblast, eight for Kindle News and Tips, 10 for Ereader News Today. Stepping stones. Take one at a time, gradually lifting yourself up.

4. Relax.

Okay, I couldn't really think of anything interesting to write for number four, but you need to remember that unless you're like 95 and you're expecting to die in the next week or so, it's not a race. You have lots of time. Many traditional writers took decades before they were able to give up the day job. You have all the advantage - no production schedule, no one rejecting your proposal or telling you to write your book over from scratch or to write something different in another genre. YOU are the master. YOU CHOOSE what gets published and when. It's the perfect situation.

Through most of July and August I was busting my ass getting the final Tube Riders book done. Now that's been drafted, I have a little more time to address marketing and see if I can't figure out what to do about my plummeting sales.

What I've been doing -

I set up Goodreads giveaways for two of my paperbacks. This is a way to get more visibility for your books and to potentially get more reviews.

I've done some research into online markets, and I've spent a bit of money here and there. Not much, $10 here, $10 there, trying to get a bit more visibility.

I've tweeted and blogged more (hello!). I've linked my blogs on Stumbledupon and tweeted them.

I've set up a Facebook ad for one of my books, which I put on special price.

I printed out a bunch of photographs of my book covers, and during a recent trip back to England I "strategically" placed them in potentially beneficial locations. For example, the next person to use my seat on the airline I took will find a Tube Riders bookmark inside his in-flight magazine. Not sure if it'll help, but you have to think outside the box sometimes.

What have been the results?

Well, nothing spectacular, but yesterday I sold four books. That's four more than I sold the day before. I can't be sure that had anything at all to do with my renewed efforts, but it felt like it did.

And sometimes that's enough.

Don't let the bitterness take hold. If you've decided you're in this for the long haul then stop stressing about today or yesterday's sales. Think about where you want your sales to be in 2015.

Fight through the low times. If you keep writing, they'll pass.

Chris Ward
September 23rd 2013

Friday, 20 September 2013

What does a Createspace book look like? Part 2

I have an extremely popular blog that gets a lot of hits every day about what a Createspace book looks like. Even nearly a year and a half on I get emails from people about it, but its starting to look a bit dated now, so I thought I'd give an update, as my books really don't look like that anymore.

The book featured on my original blog here was done at a cost of $120 (for the rights to use the photo, but everything was my own work. Interestingly enough, the books you will see in the pictures below, whole taking longer to produce, actually cost a little less. The benefits of experience ....

Here's my stack of paperbacks which I bought for some Goodreads giveaways. The covers for both books were done by Su Halfwerk at Novel Prevue and cost $60 each for the ebook covers and the paperback covers together. I have worked with Su several times now and would thoroughly recommend her. She is very reasonably priced, fast, and loves the challenge of wading through my endless requests to get the cover I want. Each cover she does for me is better than the last and I look forward to working with her again in the future.

You can see from my careful thumb placement the width of the spine, 1.8cm to be precise. Head of Words is 96,000 words and this paperback edition came to 308 pages. With these dimensions I am about to sell it for $7.99 and make roughly a dollar profit. 

This is the front. I used Createspace's standard 6 x 9 inch format. I've experimented with different sizes but the price is calculated on page length regardless of height so obviously the less pages there are the cheaper you can price it and/or the more profit you can make. My book The Tube Riders, for example, is 600 pages long, and priced at $17.99. I make about 20 cents profit so its hardly worth thinking about.

This is inside the front cover. For these two books I upgraded on the formatting and hired Suzie O'Connell from Welman Creek Books, who was recommended by a friend. For $50 she added some interesting detail to the chapter headings and the front inside cover, taking the original design of the outer cover and using the same style. I was very pleased and now it looks really professional. Createspace's in-house charges are very expensive but with a little shopping around you get get a really good deal. I don't sell many paperbacks but they're now in place hopefully forever.

Some of the internal detail that Suzie did for me, including interesting chapter headings and dropped capitals at the start of the first line.

Here's a little of the inside of The Man Who Built the World, with some little graphics and the header at the top. For these books the font is Garamond size 11. In my previous post I was using Times New Roman, which I have since discovered is designed for newspaper columns. Apparently two of the most popular fonts to use for books are Garamond and Baskerville. I actually found that with a long book, Garamond came in at quite a bit shorter than Times New Roman. The Tube Riders shrank from 624 pages to 584, meaning, of course, that I could lower the price a little.

Anyway, I hope these pictures are helpful. As always, any comments or questions are welcome. If you want to make sure you get my future blogs then please sign up for the mailing list on the top right.

Chris Ward
20th September 2013