TWO LESSONS IN INDIE PUBLISHING FROM THE LAST YEAR
By Christopher Meeks
I’m an accidental publisher. I never intended to go the route I have, starting my own publishing company. I had an agent, and I was doing what I wanted to do: writing quality fiction.
However, after I’d published a number of short stories in journals, enough to make a book, I suggested a book of these stories to my agent. He said there wasn’t enough money in short fiction for him to even send out my manuscript. That’s when I started White Whisker Books. I would publish my short story collection, The Middle-Aged Man and the Sea. It’s been an Amazon Bestseller off and on for the last two years. Now I’m writing novels.
I’d worked for a publisher at one time, so I had experienced how it was done from the inside: getting a quality editor, obsessed proofreaders, a great book designer, and an energetic publicist—so I mirrored that. I’ve been doing it ever since, not only leaving the agent and publishing my novels, too, but also publishing books by talented friends.
I started in 2006, and things have changed a great deal. At first, it was all about printed books, using print-on-demand technology. Then eBooks became a force, and for the do-it-yourselfer and small publishers (which I’ll call “indies”), it’s meant a lot of cost savings in terms of not having to take back printed books that didn’t sell.
Still, 2013 was the year that eBooks found their level: about 20% of all books sold. That means 80% of publishing is still in traditional printed books. Indies can make a perfectly good living in eBooks alone, but part of me wants to know is there a way to crack that 80% that’s cost effective? It’s a question I can’t answer right now. I still sell printed books through Ingram—and it’s only a small part of sales. I still take back books, which cuts down severely in the profit I make there.
As I look back on 2013, here are two big things I’ve learned:
1) To sell eBooks beyond your friends and family, you need to advertise. Otherwise, how will people find your book? Many indies hope that, magically, word-of-mouth will do it. That’s rare. It’s certainly a slim possibility, but even so, you may need to advertise to start the word-of-mouth.
There are thousands of places willing to take your money, but early in 2013, I discovered BookBub. It’s mostly an email service that sends out daily notices of great books that are at a discount. Subscribers select the categories of books they like read, and rather than being deluged, they are likely to get just four or five recommendations each day. You, the author, pay for a recommended spot if BookBub chooses you. With a single sponsorship, I’ve sold between 600 and 1600 books in a day. Most people who’ve used it have had similar results.
The BookBub people are geniuses. Right from the start, they only took sponsorships for books that were highly regarded. That meant a book needed a number of traditional and customer reviews, and the average customer review had to be four stars or higher. The cover and blurbs had to appeal to them. The books also had to be discounted at least 50% for the day so that their readers would buy it now.
Of course, news of this service spread, and now every author wants their book there. A book can appear, however, only once every six months, so it’s not in and of itself a marketing plan. You want your book seen more than twice a year. However, it makes for a nice pair of blips on the yearly sales chart.
There are other places that work similarly, though not with such high sales. However, you can use these services for the same book every two to four weeks. Places I can recommend are BookGorilla, Kindle Books and Tips, Kindle Nation Daily, and EReader News Today (ENT). I hope to discover others.
What this all means in practical terms is you need at least a dozen reviews on Amazon to start things. Your book better be well-written, well-edited and proofed, and with a great cover design to get those reviews. If you are less than professional in those areas, you’re not likely to get top reviews.
One of my company’s books, Iron City by David Scott Milton, a fabulous mystery from a veteran writer who’s been with big publishers, has twenty-six reviews, most of them four- and five-star, but there are enough below that to take his average rating to just below four stars. Now I can’t place sponsorships for it.
New books typically don’t have enough reviews to get sponsorships. What I’m saying is that not every book can be advertised. Thus, if you get a spot in one of these places, make the price low. While 99 cents seems absurdly low, it will sell books if indeed 99 cents is a special price.
If your book sells well on a particularly day, your ranking on Amazon and Barnes and Noble will go up. If it goes up enough, it will show as a top seller in certain lists. I hope Blood Drama, for instance, will show up in the thriller, suspense, literary, or contemporary fiction lists. Once the book makes it on a list, people looking at those lists might look at the book’s landing page. If the reviews, the cover, and the price all look great, you might have a sale. The more sales, the longer you stay on those lists.
2) Blog tours are important. One way to get reviews is a blog tour. I did my first blog tour last year, and I found it wonderful. A blog tour is managed by a tour operator—some are better than others. This book is on a blog tour through a company called Partners in Crime, which has been a pleasure. It’s how I found Jodi Webb.
What a tour operator does is contact bloggers and literary websites that might be appropriate for a book and invite the people associated with them to be a part of the tour. A site might get involved in one of three ways: review the book that’s on tour; interview the book’s author; ask the author to write a guest blog, which is what I’m doing here with Jodi.
To sum it all up, I’ve found that if your book is truly good, and you either want to help your publisher or you are publishing the book yourself, you need to get on a blog tour. If you get good reviews, advertise your book.
I didn’t start writing to become a publisher or a marketing expert. It’s the writing I love. To be true to my writing, though, I’ve learned how to get my books out there. Try one of my books to see see if I get you involved in my story. If I do, this has all been worth it.
Author: Christopher Meeks
Paperback: 240 pages (also available in e-formats)
Publisher: White Whisker Books (May 13, 2013)
Everyone has a bad day. In the crossover thriller BLOOD DRAMA, graduate student Ian Nash, after losing his girlfriend, gets dropped from a Ph.D. program in theatre. When he stops at a local coffee shop in the lobby of a bank to apply for a job, the proverbial organic matter hits the fan. A gang of four robs the bank, and things get bloody. Ian is taken hostage by the robbers when the police show up. Now he has to save his life.
FBI Special Agent Aleece Medina’s analysis of the bloody bank heist drives her into the pursuit of a robbery gang headed by two women. She doesn’t anticipate how this robbery will pit her against both the bandits and the male higher-ups in the FBI while the media heats up during a giant manhunt.
The robbers are about to kill Ian, and all he has at hand is his knowledge of the stage.
If you enjoy books with unlikely pairs then Blood Drama is the book for you. Ian Nash and Aleece Medina could not be more different yet through a twist of fate they find themselves working toward the same goal — the capture of a gang of bank robbers. Medina just happens to be an expert at bank robbers while Nash is an expert at…well, a few playwrights most of us have only a glancing knowledge of. But somehow they make it work.
Blood Drama is a book full of surprises — including a few I really never saw coming. That’s what makes a book great, the things you never would have guessed in a million years. This story grabs you from the very beginning when you wonder “How will this poor soul ever survive being kidnapped?” When you mix Nash with FBI agent Medina, he suddenly becomes this guy convinced that he alone can stop the bank robbers. You’ll keep reading if only to find out what kind of crazy trouble Nash gets himself into.
Thank you Christopher Meeks for staying true to reality and not wrapping everything up with a neat little bow at the end. I’d love to see what happens to Nash and Medina, separately or together, in another book.
Check out an excerpt of Blood Drama here and if you like it ( I know you will!) comment on today’s post before February 13 and I’ll enter you to win an e-book copy of Blood Drama. Spread the word!