If you’ve ever thought about self-publishing a book, you’ve come to the right place. Please welcome author Zoe Winters who will share her thoughts on what she wishes she would have known when she first jumped into the self-published author pool. Don’t forget to leave a comment because one lucky winner will receive a digital copy of Zoe’s books Blood Lust and Becoming an Indie Author.
The good news is… a whole bunch of people have already done it. And a lot of them have been really loud and proud about it. This has lowered the stigma just a little bit. However, the temptation can still be strong to lash out at anyone who doesn’t understand what it is you’re trying to do. If I could go back in a time machine, there are a lot of things I might have done differently.
I might not have argued so much or so stridently with people on the Internet on the topic of self-publishing. While it did gain me fans/readers/followers/whatevers, it at times also alienated people. Of course no matter what you do or how you comport yourself, someone won’t like you. You can be the nicest person on the planet and never get combative with anyone, and there will be someone who dislikes you for *that* reason. So you really can’t win. But I think the best reason for not spending so much time arguing on the Internet would have been the next thing I might have done differently…
Writing more consistently. Writers are lazy. There, I said it. Get mad at me if you want to, but it’s true. There is pretty much no other profession in the world where you can work for an hour a day and whine about how hard it was. On some level, this isn’t our fault. In traditional publishing, publication schedules make it such that most authors can’t publish more than one book a year (for one author name at least), so in readers’ minds there is this idea that if you write faster than that, it must be drek. So writers with work ethic are automatically punished for it.
This year I’ve got a goal to write 365,000 new words. Yes, that’s a lot, but it breaks down to 1k a day. It takes me 1 hour or less to compose that. And that’s at my natural writing speed. Of course we can’t speed out into the world with unedited rough drafts, but we also all know that the more we write, the better we get. Old pros in this business don’t tend to have to have as many edits to do as newbies. (Yes, there are always those writers who get famous and then crazy who go off on bizarre tangents and get worse rather than better. But generally speaking, you get better at what you practice at daily.)
Had I written more consistently and shown a stronger work ethic over the years, not only would I have a lot more writing experience and stronger craft under my belt when I started self-publishing, but I would have had more books to publish, faster. Watching Amanda Hocking’s star rise so high so fast, inspired me to work on backlist. There are obviously many factors that contribute to an indie author doing well, but having a lot of *good* titles, is one of the biggest, in my opinion.
Had I been writing more, I automatically wouldn’t have been wasting so much time arguing on the Internet. But, live and learn.
If I could hop into a time machine, I would not have posted a free ebook anywhere without making it conditional on signing up for my newsletter. Something I learned quickly was that if you want something specific, you sometimes have to do more than just give something away. I didn’t give Kept away out of the altruism of my heart. I wanted to make a living. I wanted to build a platform and fan base, and most importantly a newsletter list. I told people where they could sign up for my newsletter at the back, but my newsletter sign ups didn’t really take off until I made it a condition of getting Kept free.
I think the newsletter list is one of THE most important marketing tools you have at your disposal. It allows you to rally a lot of your fans together all in one place and get them to take action at the right time. There can be a huge difference in sales if you can get a thousand people to go buy the book *now*. Or even 200 or 300 to do it. Because buying the book right now, means your rankings shoot up faster, and not only do they shoot up faster, but the recommendations algorithm kicks into high gear at places like Amazon and B&N. The higher your sales rankings and the longer you can sustain it, the greater your visibility and the longer your sales peak before things drop back down and get quiet again for awhile.
Another thing I would have done differently in hindsight is that I wouldn’t have sold at 99 cents for so long. The intention was to build trust and build an audience, but 99 cents isn’t a great long-term strategy for a few different reasons. For one thing, a lot of people like to hoard 99 cent ebooks. I’m sure many of the people who bought my ebooks when they were 99 cents, still haven’t read them. And probably never will. It looked good to them at the time, and it was only 99 cents. But they didn’t read it.
Why is this a bad thing?
Besides Amazon’s recommendations algorithms and sales rank visibility, what helps you the most is just like any other author, word-of-mouth advertising. If a good portion of your readers aren’t reading the book, that cuts way down on the kind of word of mouth you’re going to get out of the deal.
Another issue with 99 cent ebooks is a lot of people have a “you get what you pay for” attitude. So even if you’re trying to be generous and build trust, many people will go into your work “expecting” it to suck. If you’ve studied psychology very deeply, you know that often one’s expectations of a thing inform their experience of it. So many people will think something is worse if it’s cheaper and better if it’s more expensive, even if it’s the same exact thing. (For some interesting studies on this and other quirks of human behavior, check out the book: “Predictably Irrational”.)
I finally flipped out like a ninja when one reader decided that Kept, which was 99 cents on Amazon at the time should have been free because it was “short”. That was when it really hit home that people weren’t seeing this as a trust-building activity. They were seeing it as either low self-worth on my part, or crappy product. Because I can’t imagine that anyone would have expected a novella by a big name author to be free just because it was a novella. I paid $3.99, I think, for a J.R. Ward novella around the length of Kept.
This experience directly inspired two events, A Zoe Who? video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QxWBPmLoyEU
Though sales themselves dipped a little bit, they didn’t fall off the map and I started making more money than I’d made with more sales at 99 cents. Plus, once you start selling at the $2.99 price point, you start attracting a different demographic of reader… i.e. people who won’t complain about paying a few bucks for a reading experience. Because really, we’re talking about less than the price of a coffee at Starbucks. And no matter how fast you read, plenty of people go through the Starbucks drive-thru every morning.
If I’d raised my prices when my sales rankings were the highest, due to the sales velocity I had going on at the time, I believe I would have kept selling well at the higher price points for around the same length of time I sold great at 99 cents. So basically I lost thousands of dollars by keeping my prices so low for so long. An argument could be made that I wouldn’t be able to sell at $2.99 if I hadn’t built a platform first at 99 cents. This isn’t a bad argument, but I write under an additional pen name that doesn’t have the Zoe-platform and raised prices to $2.99 very early on. The book still sold, and in fact on Amazon right now is selling better than any one Zoe book.
So those are some of the things I wish I’d known when I started self-publishing. I’m making a living self-publishing fiction right now, something for which I’m incredibly grateful since I seemed to have no ability to make a living doing anything else (or keep a job long enough to find out). But, I might be better off if I’d done a few things differently.
Nothing really prepares you upfront for the decisions you’ll have to make as an indie author. We all make our mistakes and hopefully learn from them. The one piece of advice I’d like to leave you with though is… don’t be afraid to make mistakes. It can hold you back in indecision and keep you from moving forward. If you do something wrong, figure out what it is, fix it, and keep going. Don’t be afraid to start just because you might make an error. That’s a given in almost everything.
RU Crew, is there anything you wish you would have known before starting on your writing journey? Don’t forget to leave a comment to be entered into the drawing. Zoe will be checking in later today to answer questions.
Thank you to Zoe for being here today.
Join us on Monday when Sourcebooks Editor Deb Werksman gives us a behind the scenes look at the acquisition process.
Bio: Zoe Winters writes quirky and sometimes dark paranormal romance. She’s an outspoken advocate of the indie author movement and believes indie authors deserve the same consideration as indie musicians and filmmakers. Her favorite colors are rainbow and clear. You can find her on the web at zoewinters.org
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