by Christine Kling
When the end of the year rolls around, it always makes me think back on the past 12 months. This has been an amazing year for me – a year full of changes in my own place in the world of books and in my view of myself as a writer.
When I made the decision in December of 2011 to self-publish my fifth novel, Circle of Bones, I really thought I was making an irrevocable break from the world of traditional publishing. Readers of this blog over the past two years will know that it was a decision I did not make lightly. When you get a publishing contract with a big publisher, you think you’ve made it and you can’t imagine that you will ever choose another path or make the decision to walk away. Yet I did just that. My editor at Ballantine still had the option on my fifth book. I submitted Circle of Bones to him and he sat on it. My contract said he had to make a decision in 45 days, and I kept hoping he would call, but after 4 months, I’d had it. I sent him an email and told him I was withdrawing the book from consideration and I was going to self-publish it. I felt certain I’d live to regret that grandstand move.
For so many years, self-publishing has been looked down upon by the world of traditional publishing, and it seemed to carry with it a stench of failure. Mike J. will remember the many conversations we had when I railed against the idea that self published books would ever be able to compete with traditionally published books. Back then, I was still under the illusion that self-publishing was synonymous with using a vanity press. Even this recent article in the New York Times failed to recognize how so many of today’s self-published author/entrepreneurs are different: “They used to call it the ‘vanity press,’ and the phrase itself spoke volumes. Self-published authors were considered not good enough to get a real publishing contract. They had to pay to see their book in print.” The article went on to extol the virtues of Simon & Schuster’s recent partnership with Author Solutions (a real old-fashioned vanity press) which only showed that the author of that NYT article was just as blind as I once was to the changes that have taken place in publishing in the past three years.
I didn’t just pay somebody else to publish my book. I hired a developmental editor and a copy editor ($1100), a cover artist ($150), bought ISBN numbers ($250 for 10), taught myself how to format books, created a business called Tell-Tale Press and registered it in the state of Florida as a sole proprietorship. I opened a business bank account and ordered business cards, and I read blogs, books, and articles and everything I could find on this new business model.
I’m also still learning everything I can about how to market my books. After self-publishing Bones, I got the rights to my four Seychelle books back from Ballantine (even though the ebooks were still in print) because my contracts stipulated that if my sales from all editions did not number more than 300 per title for two consecutive 6 month periods, I could get the rights back. I submitted my royalty statements to prove that was the case, then I set about getting the cover art done. After editing and formatting those books, I self-published them. In July, the first month I had all four editions of my self-published Seychelle books available at $3.99, I sold a combined 2500 copies across the four titles in one month. Take that, Ballantine!
One reason I’ve been so successful at selling my self-published books is I work hard at the marketing. Initially, I contacted dozens of book bloggers and sent out copies for reviews – with no luck. Then, I tried ads on Facebook and Google. Finally, it was through Amazon’s Kindle Select program whereby authors can make their titles free for 5 days every 90 days that my books found legs. It doesn’t work as well today as it did prior to April, but it still certainly helps. For example, this month I offered Surface Tension for free on Dec. 7-9. When I have a promo, I try to contact as many places that list free books as I can, and I also pay for some listings and ads on certain sites. This is the list of what I did for my December promo:
PAID PROMO1. Paid promotional Boost on Digital Book Today $30.00 2. Kindle Promo (David Weeks) 2-day tweet special $16.95 3. Book Bub free day ad for $150 4. Author Marketing Club $15.00 5. Kindle Nation Daily $29.99
FREE LISTINGS1. Pixel of Ink 2. Ereader News Today 3. Books on the Knob 4. Free Booksy 5. Bargain ebook Hunter 6. Free Kindle Fiction 7. Free Book Dude 8. Indie Book Promo 9. Free Kindle Books and Tips 10. Book Goodies 11. Ebooks Habit 12. The ereader cafe
As of December 7th, I had sold 35 copies of Surface Tension for the month. Over the course of the 3-day giveaway period, the book was downloaded for free 29,476 times and it made it to #2 on the Kindle Free Bestseller list. As of today, I’ve sold 415 copies and the book has been borrowed 233 times (which should pay as much as a sale this month). The great part is that the promo on the one title also pushes sales across all my titles and this has resulted in my being able to make a living as a writer for the past year.
And as a result of these kinds of efforts, in the past 12 months I have sold or had borrowed over 17,000 copies of Circle of Bones, and the ebook has had some 97,000 copies downloaded for free.
How it happened, I’ll probably never know, but somehow, Terry Goodman at Amazon’s Thomas & Mercer imprint got hold of my book and even better, he liked it. Others have sold far more copies than I have, but back in August, I signed a 3-book contract with T&M, and I suddenly found myself in a place I never thought I would be – back with a traditional publisher (albeit a controversial one). What a crazy year, right? And as you can see from the image above, the new edition of Circle of Bones, re-edited and repackaged by Thomas & Mercer is soon to be released as an ebook, trade paperback and audiobook – with what I think is a fabulous new cover.
But, a funny thing happened to me during this year of great change. I discovered I really liked having total control over my books. I liked the marketing and the designing of formats and watching my sales change hourly on my author dashboard. I like being my own publisher. So back in August when I was having the conversations with Thomas & Mercer about them re-issuing Circle of Bones, Terry asked me if I wanted to sell them the rights to the Seychelle books, too. I didn’t even have to think about it. I said no. I want to keep some self-published books in addition to having some that are traditionally published. In this new world of self-publishing, they call it being a hybrid author. Sorry about the cliché, but it is truly the best of both worlds.
When I returned from my recent 5-week research trip to Thailand and the Philippines, I found two huge heavy boxes containing 25 ARCs of the hefty new paperback edition of Circle of Bones. It’s been over a week, and I can’t figure out what to do with them. It would cost a bundle to mail them to reviewers. When I first published a paper version of my self-published edition of Bones I sent about 10 paper copies and 15 ebook copies to book reviewers, and I never got a single review that I know of. I’m not sure I’ll have any better luck this time around. If you have any thoughts on what to do with paper ARCs in 2013, I’d welcome your suggestions.
As exciting as 2012 has been, 2013, aka the year of the Tablet, promises to be even better. I anticipate increased book sales, more reviews of navigational apps (:-), more sailing, and the completion of The Dragon’s Triangle, book #2 of the Riley and Cole trilogy.
For a techie, writer, sailor, it doesn’t get any better than that.
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