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My Self Publishing Adventure – Episode Five – Gaining a Following

   In February of 2011, I decided to turn my writing hobby into a vocation. In addition to spending time completing the two novels I had in draft, I joined a writers’ group, read several books on the craft of fiction writing, and I did some research on what publishing is like in the 21st Century and how it is changing. Based on what I had read and heard, I decided that rather than seeking a traditional path to publishing by querying agents and publishers, I would self publish my novels as e-books. The advantages seemed to outweigh the disadvantages although this puts extra responsibility on the writer. Whether this was a wise choice or not remains to be seen but one of the first things I learned was that I needed a “platform.”

Writing books is only part of a new writer’s job and, I have learned, not the most difficult part. The hardest part is letting people know they are available, attracting their attention and encouraging them to give them a try. This is where traditional publishing seems to excel but I felt confident that once people read my books, they would spread the word about them and want more. After all, my books are good. I know. I’ve read them and I have very discriminating taste.

But this strategy relies heavily on gaining those first readers, which means the author has to somehow accomplish four things:

  1. Attract readers’ attention.
  2. Get them to download the books.
  3. Persuade people to actually read them.
  4. Encourage them to write reviews and tell friends about the books.

I seem to be stuck at steps 1 and 2 right now. To attract attention, I started this blog and opened a Twitter account in May.

The blog has evolved since then. I began by writing short posts on some of the things that influenced my writing. Then I began sharing my experiences on writing and self publishing thinking these may be of interest to others who may be contemplating this path. Recently I’ve also been posting short reviews of books I just finished reading if they warrant four or five stars (on Amazon’s five star scale). Occasionally I also do a post on other topics as well. I try to do at least two posts a week. If I get comments on any of these, I try to respond.

The blog seems to be gradually attracting some following. These are the stats on the number of ‘hits’ it has received since it began.

  • May – 26
  • June – 42
  • July – 83
  • August – 96
  • September – 226
  • October – 308
  • November (so far) – 180

Twitter, the other major focus of my platform building effort, is less focused. I try to do at least ten tweets a day but these are fairly random, from clever quotes and quips to blatant self promotion of my blog or my books. As of today, I have 253 followers. I try to engage those I follow by retweeting tweets I find interesting or clever and I try to thank anyone who comments on mine or follows me.

So, has any of this turned into book sales? The short answer is, “No.” This table shows my book ‘sales’ to date.

 

 

 

 

By making a few assumptions, what I have leaned from this is that attracting attention, step 1 on my list, is difficult but not impossible. I have Twitter followers and people are visiting my blog and these numbers are gradually increasing.

Step 2, getting people to download my books can be done by offering them for free. My ‘beta’ version of the anthology Defying Fate came out in July and I offered it to friends and relatives for free. None had e-readers but some did download PDF versions from Smashwords and commented favorably. In September, I published the two books separately and offered the first for free on Smashwords for a month. During that time, 157 copies were downloaded. I then raised the price to 99¢ on Smashwords to match the price on Amazon. There were no sales after that on Smashwords.

Step 3, getting people to read them is where I’m stalled. I have no idea how many of those 157 free copies have actually been read but I have seen no comments or reviews on Smashwords as a result so I am assuming few, if any, have been. One five star review has been posted to Amazon though and I am extremely grateful for it. I am hoping it is the first of many.

I have learned that a low price by itself does not attract buyers. I thought it might but there are many books by new indie authors priced at 99¢ and mine are just two out of thousands. Because of comments I had received from other indie writers saying mine were priced too low for what they were, I had planned on raising the prices of my books this month but I am putting that off for now. Raising the prices, I fear, might make them less attractive and I’m really not in this to make money anyway. The main reason to charge anything at all is to give me a way to explain to others why I spend so much time with this.

My plan forward in addition to completing my third novel, is to try to attract more Twitter followers by targeting those I follow. I will also look into seeing if I can find book bloggers who may be interested in looking at my first book and doing a short review. If you are a book blogger or reviewer and would like a free copy in exchange for an honest review let me know.

For all of the other new writers out there, consider this encouragement not to give up. Once your first book is done and available, it is likely to take quite some time to get noticed. If you find yourself frustrated that it has not been, don’t be discouraged. You are not alone.

 Related Posts:
Why I Chose To Self Publish
My Self Publishing Adventure – Episode One
My Self Publishing Adventure – Episode Two
My Self Publishing Adventure – Episode Three – Building a Platform
My Self Publishing Adventure – Episode Four – Managing Expectations
Ten Things For Aspiring Fiction Writers To Consider

My Self Publishing Adventure – Episode Four – Managing Expectations

   I have to admit to being a bit disappointed with this adventure in self publishing so far and I’m trying not to be disillusioned about it all. This post isn’t to gripe about that though. My intent here is to share my experiences with other new writers so that they might know what to expect and give them an opportunity to assess how they are doing by comparison with how I have done.

I have always wanted to write fiction. I knew I would be something of a niche author because I am a niche reader. I like books that provide social commentary, philosophical insights, and do so without being heavy or taking themselves too seriously. This is hard to pull off although Sir Terry Pratchett normally can do it and others can occasionally as well. These are the kinds of books I like to read so they are the kind I wanted to write.

I found that Young Adult (YA) books are often better at this than those targeted for adult markets because they tend to be more hopeful, more idealistic, and less focused on sex and violence. If I want to see the darker side of humanity, I can watch the TV news. A few hours of that could convince anyone that humanity is doomed, and quite possibly deservedly so.

I want something different for my leisure reading. Something that will allow me to pretend, at least for a moment, that there is a bright future for humanity. For video entertainment, this is what draws me to both Star Trek and Doctor Who. They both show people being able to overcome prejudice and superstition and they portray people, as a whole and individually, as creatures with value and potential. Apparently this is not a popular perspective so I never expected my books to be bestsellers. I never expected them to appeal to a very large audience. I have to admit that I did expect some feedback on them though, some indication that they are at least being read. So far, except for personal friends and family, there has been none.

From what I have heard anecdotally, my expectations, low as they were, may have been too high. I have found no reliable statistics on this but I’ve seen claims that it is not uncommon for a blog to attract only a few select followers its first year. Mine was established the end of May and here are statistics on how it has fared in terms of the gross number of views since then:

May – 26
June – 42
July – 83
August – 96
September – 226
October (so far) – 172

Clearly readership has grown, and hopefully will continue to do so as I write more of these wonderful posts, but so far this has not equated to book sales. This may also be common. Again, my only means of comparison for this are anecdotal comments from other writers from their blogs but I get the distinct impression that most fiction ebooks by unknown authors don’t see any appreciable sales – ever – but those that do don’t until they’ve been available for a couple years. Mine have been out a couple of months.

I began by making an anthology of my first two books available on Smashwords and created a coupon to allow them to be downloaded free. Most of these went to friends and family who did provide feeback on them, all of it positive. But then, what else would you expect from friends and family? (By the way, thanks, Dad.)

A couple of months ago, I published my first two books separately. I made the first free on Smashwords for a month and then raised the price on both Smashwords and Amazon to 99¢. I priced the sequel at 99¢ as well and the anthology at $1.99. The following shows how this pricing strategy has fared.

 

 

 

The summary for this table is that I’ve given away 174 copies of my books (all on Smashwords) and sold two (both on Amazon). I assume the one sale of The Warden War, the sequel to The Warden Threat was to someone who got a free copy of the first one, liked it, and was willing to spend 99¢ for the next one. This may not be the case but it makes me feel better to think so.

So what does this mean to others like me who may just be starting out on their own self publishing adventures? Just this. Keep your expectations low. You may have written the best book ever. It may have the potential to brighten the lives of millions, bring enlightenment to the masses and usher in a new and hopeful era for humanity. And all of these things may be true even though you don’t see many sales and don’t get any feedback from readers right away. The only opinion that really matters is your own. If you believe in your work, continue. Keep writing.

So, what is my next step? I have heard from others that my low prices, which I hoped would attract readers, may be having the opposite effect. Many people mistakenly associate cost with value. The low cost of my books may imply that they have little value. Personally I believe this to be untrue but to charge what I really think they are worth would mean only millionaires could buy them and they really aren’t the market I was trying to reach, not that I would mind them buying them as well.

One other indie writer told me that pricing a book at 99¢ may cause a person to skim over it thinking it is a novella, rather than an 80,000+ word complete novel or one that is poorly written, unedited, and incoherent. Since none of these things are true, he said I should price them at least at $2.99. I hesitate to do this because I want my books to be available to as many people as possible and some simply can’t afford $2.99 for a single book. In principle though, he may be right so in the next month or so, I am going to increase some of the prices. I will keep the first book in the series, The Warden Threat, at 99¢. I will change the price of the second to $1.99 and price the anthology of both books (which includes a special prelude as well) at $2.99. These new prices will become effective early November. I will post periodic updates on how this goes and whether or not it seems to have an impact on sales.

In the meantime, keep reading, keep writing. If you’d like to share your experiences, please leave a comment. I’d love to hear about them.

Related Posts:

Why I Chose To Self Publish
My Self Publishing Adventure – Episode One

My Self Publishing Adventure – Episode Two

My Self Publishing Adventure – Episode Three – Building a Platform

My Self Publishing Adventure – Episode Five – Gaining a Following
Ten Things For Aspiring Fiction Writers To Consider

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