The question I never quite know how to answer… (part 7 on writing and publishing)

A lot of the people I run into ask the same question when the subject of my book comes up:

So, how is it doing?

Not a bad question.  In fact, it’s great they’re interested.  It’s fabulous someone is nice enough to ask.

The problem is how to answer.

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If you read my last post, you’ll know that indie publishing isn’t what you might expect if you’ve seen the news articles about someone who’s sold a million copies of their books.  In reality, over half of indie publishers earn less than $500 a year.  Currently, I’m barely shy of that number, and my book has only been out for 2 months.  (And maybe $500 sounds like a lot of money to you, but remember, with marketing costs, cover design costs, etc. that $500 still doesn’t cover my initial investment.)  So, one way to answer the question of how Borrowed Magic is doing is to say, “great!”  After all, I’ve almost made more than over 50% of indie publishers.

I feel really good about that.  When I started this adventure, I didn’t have a huge social media following, my name wasn’t already out there as a recognizable author, I was basically nobody.  So the fact that I’m above the average of indie publishers is fantastic.  I’m also keeping in mind that most indie’s are successful because they have more than one book published.  Someone reads your second book, likes it, goes looking for more, and buys you first book.  Therefore, the more books you have out, the more people are likely to find you and buy your books.  For example, I’m planning to publish my next book, Blessed,  in July or August.  Say someone finds that who never knew about Borrowed Magic.  They like Blessed and then buy Borrowed Magic because they now trust me as an author and want more.  So you see how the more books you have out, the more sales you get.  If you have 10 books out and someone doesn’t discover you until book number 10, they may go and buy the other 9.  The sales numbers increase exponentially when you have more books.  Back to my point…considering the fact I am an unknown author with only one book out there (and the prequel novella, but that’s free), I think I’ve done pretty well.

Another thing to judge success by for a new indie author without a huge following is reviews.  Currently, I have 30 Amazon reviews.  That’s around 17% of my sales.  Which is AMAZING!  I read an article just the other day from an indie publisher who said their reviews usually average 1% of sales.  Not only that, but my reviews average out to 4.6 out of 5 on Amazon!  Nothing to complain about there.  I have a few more reviews on Goodreads.  Currently 53, of which 31 have actually written a review and not just rated it.  I think my average there is 4.26, which is fabulous for Goodreads, whose reviewers are notoriously more critical.

So, how is my book doing?  Great!  You just have to keep everything in perspective.  And you also have to remember that if people don’t help spread the word — don’t just tell people you liked a book, tell them they need  to read it 🙂 — indie books die.  Their sales slowly go down and down until they’re not selling at all.  More than perhaps any other group of authors, indies rely on you, our readers, to help our books succeed!

 

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The fork in the road… (part 6 on writing and publishing)

Maybe you got your dream agent and everything is great and you’re willing to wait 1 1/2 – 2 years to see your book on shelves (really, that’s how long it takes with a traditional publisher!).  You also realize that authors, on average, earn less than $10k a year!  (Yes, that’s right.  For the majority of authors, it will never be a full time job.  Remember the the next time you borrow a book instead of buying it and supporting the author.  🙂 )  Everything is going just how you planned.

Or maybe it’s not.

Maybe you didn’t get that dream agent, and you are disheartened and feeling you can’t write, your story must be terrible, and you’ll never be published.

Then you take a deep breath and decide what to do from there.  Your choice may be to write another manuscript and try the agent process again.  This was my choice after each of my first two books weren’t picked up by an agent.  However, after my third book wasn’t accepted — and this despite beta readers who loved it — I seriously considered publishing myself.

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So…Independent Publishing.  Self Publishing.  Whatever you wan to call it.  It’s definitely an option now a days for authors who are confident in their manuscript but for whom the traditional route doesn’t seem to be working.  Even traditional authors have taken the indie publishing route at times because they get a higher percentage of each sale.  If they already have a huge audience, they can often earn more money in the long run.

For those of us who don’t have an established name, indie publishing is a little overwhelming.   You have to get a cover designed.  You have to get your manuscript edited to perfection (whether you hire someone or not).  You have to learn (or hire out) digital formatting for each site you want to publish on.  You have to learn the ins and outs of each of the different sites.  If you want a hard copy also, then your cover has to be the right formatting and you have to deal with yet another site to upload to.  AND you have to do your own marketing.

That last one is, perhaps, the most daunting of all.  No publisher to back you.  No publisher’s catalog to be featured in.  No publisher to buy you premium space in the bookstore (yes, those displays at the front and books featured on the ends of the aisle are all paid for).  This idea of marketing is also where the “free” in self publishing kind of flies out the window.  Sure, it’s free to upload to all the sites, but the rest isn’t free.  You should ALWAYS (unless you’re a designer) pay for a cover design by someone who knows covers.  And you have to spend a certain amount of money on marketing.  You know all those blog tours you see on blogs all over the internet?  Many times, the author has paid for those.  Not paid each blogger, but paid someone to organize it all and make it easier for you.  Authors will also pay for review tours, cover reveals, etc.

And then, after all that work, over 50% of self publishers earn less than $500.  $500!!!!  Yes, you hear about the exceptions where someone has sold millions of copies, but it is RARE.  Many self publishers struggle with getting people to discover and then buy their book.  Even if they can do that, you need reviews to assure new readers that your book is worth reading.  And do you know how hard it is to get reviews?!?  It’s kind of like pulling teeth.

With indie publishers, I kind of get the misunderstanding.  With the success of books like Twilight or Harry Potter, and the sales numbers and book deals amounts floating around out there, everyone thinks they are going to publish a book “for free” online and then earn millions.  Because of that, there are a lot of terrible self published books out there.  There are also incredible self published books out there where the authors took everything seriously.  They read in the genre they write.  They got beta readers.  They rewrote and rewrote and rewrote until it was perfect.  They might have even gone to writers’ conferences and taken classes.

So when you’re looking at indie publishers, look at reviews, read a sample, find the good ones and support those authors.  They have put hours and hours of work into what you will, hopefully, enjoy.  And then BUY their book.  Indie authors rarely price anything digital over $5.99, and most are $3.99 or less.  That’s like two gallons of milk!  Considering most earn less than $500 a year, the hourly rate would be very, very low (I don’t have the actual hours because I’ve lost count, but my book has 85k words, and I’ve spent at least 85 hours.  That many hours divided by $500 just as an example is a mere $5.88 an hour.  And that’s a conservative estimate on hours).

All that being said, indie authors would rather have you borrow their book than not read it at all.  After all, you might tell someone else about it and they WILL buy it.  Whatever you choose, support indie authors, tell people about the books of theirs you like, tweet about them, share them, post reviews on Goodreads and Amazon.  Do anything to help them spread the word and maybe, just possibly, they’ll be one of the successes of indie publishing and get out of the $500 a year majority.

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