The Things I Did Wrong

Here’s another post that’s mostly of interest to fellow writers. Several people have asked me about how I launched the book, how I get reviews, how it got noticed by Amazon… often my response is a blank stare, but here’s what I did. Hope it helps! Just remember that you have to do what’s right for YOUR book.

 

There’s a lot of advice out there for self-publishers. I’m not going to add to it. I don’t have enough experience to advise anyone on anything, though I’m happy to point you to resources that have helped me (see end of this post).

Actually… according to the advice I’ve read, I’m doing a lot of things wrong. That’s not to say it hasn’t worked out for me. Bound has had a decent run at the top of a few sub-category best-seller lists, and has sold more e-books in its first few months than I projected for its first few years (Don’t be too impressed– I’m a conservative estimator). But according to a lot of people*, I did all of this wrong:

  • I didn’t launch the book at free or 99 cents.
  • I didn’t go exclusive with Amazon’s KDP Select. Because of that, my book is not available through Kindle Lending Library or Kindle Universe.
  • I invested a not-small chunk of change in editing my first book, before I knew I had an audience and before I knew I could make the money back.
  • I released at the beginning of the summer sales slump.
  • I didn’t pay for a blog tour, get into the big e-mail newsletters, spam Twitter, do follow-backs to gain followers on Twitter or Facebook, or pay for any advertising outside of a $6 Fussy Librarian spot (which didn’t seem to do anything, but hey. $6 for exposure, right?)
  • I didn’t have several books ready to go all at once.
  • I didn’t contact a lot of book bloggers.

That’s… that’s a lot of stuff I did wrong. Okay, maybe not wrong, but it went against a lot of advice. I followed my gut on these things, and I know that I’m lucky it’s paid off so far. That’s why I’m not saying “DO THIS, DO IT NOW.” Your Mileage May Vary is a HUGE thing. But if you’re curious…

Here’s what I did instead:

  • I started with an intro sale price of $2.99 to thank friends, family, and blog readers who were already supporting me, and also to make it easier for readers to take a chance on an unknown author. This lasted two months, and then the price went up to $4.99. Both prices are great value. That’s not to say I’ll never do a low-price promotion in the future, but I’m glad I started out at 70% royalties with Amazon. The $2.99 price point paid for the next book.
  • I uploaded to Amazon through KDP, and to Kobo, B&N, and iBooks through Draft2Digital (because the Smashwords meatgrinder was intimidating, and D2D is super simple). Sales at the other stores are 1/50 to 1/100 of what they are at Amazon (yes, combined). There have been times when I considered going exclusive, but I know it takes time to gain traction at those other places. And Amazon has been amazing. They have not penalized my book in any way for being non-exclusive. They just want to make money, and even if my sales are a drop in the proverbial bucket for them, they’ve been good to me so far. Select is a fantastic tool, and can be really helpful for gaining visibility, so it’s the preference for many authors when a book first comes out. I just want to point out that it’s not an absolute necessity if you’re as uncomfortable with exclusivity as I am.
  • see here for more on the editing experience. It was amazing, and I have no regrets.
  • I have no idea how the book would have done if I’d waited to release in the autumn, or at Christmas. Maybe it would have done better. Maybe a lot worse. Maybe it would have been competing with bigger releases, or maybe there would have been more people buying when it was topping those little lists, and I would have made more sales. I’m not experienced enough to say. But I’m not complaining about how things have gone, and I hope I gave some people an enjoyable summer read.
  • As to the e-mail lists, they probably would have helped if I’d released at 99 cents, but above that I don’t know that subscribers pay much attention. Keeping this one in the arsenal for later, as I do think they’re a great way to get the word out about sales/promos. And blog tours… well, I didn’t have an official one, but I’ve had some amazing, kind, and helpful fellow writers offer to host me for interviews, and I think that helped get the word out. I am so grateful to everyone who has done that, or who helped out with the cover reveal and release announcements. You’re the best. Also, acquaintances/friends/blog followers who read the book early on and went out of your way to share it with friends… you’re superstars. /end sappiness
  • Oh, and those Twitter follow-backs, yadda yadda… I still don’t see the point of having 10,000 followers if no one is actually interested in what you have to say, and only follwed you to inflate their own numbers. I do try to follow people who follow me on Twitter, but if you’re only posting #promo #promo #buymybook, I’m not going to stick around to keep you as a follower. Sorry. (But hey, if you tweet real, original thoughts, make me think or laugh, or reply to my stuff in a non-promo way, I’ll stick around through whatever occasional promos you put out there. Well done. Let’s be friends!)
  • Book two is coming out sooner than it probably would with a big publisher (8-9 months after book one, probably), but I can’t put out a book every two months like some people can. Is that going to hurt me? Will readers forget about the series before book two comes out, or stop caring? Maybe. Time will tell. But I hope my most passionate readers will get the word out again when the time comes. And they say not to promote your first book because you don’t want to hit it big when you don’t have more to sell to new fans. Well… I didn’t promote, but things have gone pretty well, and I have nothing in the back to offer people right now. We’ll see what happens.
  • I do wish I’d contacted more bloggers for reviews, but I’m shy. I’m also polite, and won’t send form letters or mass e-mails, so researching and writing requests/offers is time-consuming. But I should do it. Book bloggers/reviewers are amazing people who put their personal time and effort into adding value to the reading community, and I want to get to know more of them.

So there it is. I didn’t do it all wrong, of course. I did some things right:

  • I used keywords to get the book into relevant sub-categories on Amazon so that it would come up on Best Sellers and Hot New Release lists sooner than it would in the big ones.
  • I put a (polite, no-pressure) note in the back of the book saying how important reviews and recommendations are to a new book/author, and asked those who loved the book to share it.
  • I sent out Advance Reading/Review Copies (ARCs). Not as many as most people do, I think, but they went out, and most people followed through with reviews.
  • I wrote the story I wanted to read, not the one I thought the market wanted. Actually… this would be considered wrong by some, but it was the right thing for me. And I made it a good book with the help of incredible beta readers and a good editor. It’s not a perfect book. There is no perfect book. But it’s the one I set out to write, and it delivers good value to readers, and that knowledge helps me shrug off bad reviews from people who find it’s not their cup of tea.
  • I paid for good cover art from an artist who knows what looks good and what sells. I listened to her advice when it went against my personal preferences, and it worked out beautifully. She let me help (cover model selection, font choice out of a few she liked), but I let her lead based on the book info I’d sent. I really need to to a post on that some day. There are beautiful, high-quality pre-made covers out there, but none of them fit my book. This does, and I’ve lost count of the number of people who have said they gave Bound a chance because of the cover.
  • I ripped my hair out for two weeks over writing a blurb (sales copy) that seems to be fairly effective, and I made sure the Amazon sample was both good AND representative of the entire book.

If you’re looking for indie publishing resources, I’ll list a few of the ones that helped me below**. Thanks for stopping by, and I hope this has been helpful for someone. Just remember: I am not qualified to give advice. This is just what worked for me. I’m not an expert. A book does not a career make, yadda yadda. ‘kay? Good.

*Yes, according to some people I did these things right, too. Conflicting advice is conflicting. It’s just a fun way to frame the discussion of something people keep asking about. 🙂

**Please note that though none of these authors pay me for promotion, I am using Amazon affiliate links and receive an itty-bitty bit of money if you buy through them. Well… I will if I set it up right.  It costs you nothing extra, but does help me out. 🙂

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About Kate Sparkes

Kate Sparkes was born in Hamilton, Ontario, but now resides in Newfoundland, where she tries not to talk too much about the dragons she sees in the fog. She lives with a Mountie, two kids who take turns playing Jeckyll and Hyde, two cats, an intentional boxer and an accidental chihuahua. She's the author of the bestselling Bound Trilogy (mature YA Fantasy). www.katesparkes.com View all posts by Kate Sparkes

18 responses to “The Things I Did Wrong

  • John W. Howell

    Right and wrong are all relative. If the book is selling who cares? Nice post.

  • Dylan Hearn

    If there was only one route to guaranteed success, we’d all be following it. Congratulations on beating your (conservative) estimates and all the best of luck for book 2 🙂

  • Charles Yallowitz

    Funny how people think there’s a clear right and wrong here. I always suggest experimentation and finding what is comfortable for you when marketing. It’s whatever works out for you and you pretty thoroughly dominated a few top 100 lists during a weak summer. It really was a debut that most indie authors only dream of.

  • L.S. Engler

    There are lots and lots of things I wish I had done a little differently with the release of “Soulless,” too, and the big one is one you mentioned: getting people to review the book, because, after the fact, I realized that reviews and the like are one of the biggest driving forces. Copies of the book are going out soon, though, so I’m just doing things out of order. And that’s okay. It’s a learning experience, and there’s plenty of time to try other things with future releases. Congratulations on the success you’ve been having with “Bound” so far; I have a feeling there’s still a lot more success ahead.

    • Kate Sparkes

      Plenty of time to try different things with future releases, AND no reason not to try different things with current ones. Whether the reviews come in now or later, it’s what happens long-term that counts. Or that’s how it seems to me, anyway.

  • kingmidget

    It’s pretty simple. If it worked for you, you did the right thing. I’m thrilled for you that you achieved more success with your first book than you anticipated. Every time I hear about a self-published author who has that experience, it gives me hope that I’ll crack the nut for myself the next time I publish. I agree with you that a lot of things we’re told to do don’t work. What worked for you will go into my idea bank.

  • mbarkersimpson

    Thanks for the resources and the insight into your journey. It’s really helpful 🙂

  • Lori L MacLaughlin

    Great post! Thanks for all the info and book resources. It’s good to know what works. Congrats on Bound’s success! It really was an enjoyable read. I’d love to hear about your experience with the cover artist if you get to it sometime.

    • Kate Sparkes

      I will do a post about that. I’ll have to contact her and see whether I can show any of the mock-ups we rejected. It’s an interesting process, but I don’t know if I can show the watermarked stock photos.

  • sknicholls

    I love a good honest post that’s designed to be helpful to other indies! It’s so true. What you did worked for you. I’m excited for you and think you had a great debut. Sharing experiences gives us all hope. You totally rock. Also, your on my TBR so you can count on me for a review once I get caught up. Have you tried ENT yet?

  • Jessica Minyard

    I’m loving all these after-publication posts! Thank you for sharing your wisdom! 🙂

    The closer I get to my anticipated pub date, the more freaked out I get. I feel like there’s a lot of pressure on a new indie for the first book…so little experience and so much room to crash and burn. But you did a great job!

    • Kate Sparkes

      There is some pressure, but I think one of the benefits of going indie is that you CAN take your time and learn as you go. You don’t have the pressure to make a huge splash in the first weeks lest your books be returned by bookstores. You don’t have a contract that might be cancelled if the thing bombs, and we can find our audience with our first or our twelfth book. I mean, I hope you find yours with your first, but I trust we don’t judge each other by how well things go out of the gate. And even if we do crash and burn, we can always hose off and try again, right? 🙂

      Hope my post helped. And let me know if there’s anything else you want to know.

  • pjsandchocolate

    About the only thing I can say is that this post is inspiring to me when others of late have made me question the whole idea of me writing and pushing something out.

    Thank you.

  • Starting out as an indie author: Interview with Kate Sparkes, author of BOUND | Ruth Nestvold – Indie Adventures

    […] and then follow your instincts. I did a lot of things “wrong” (I actually have a blog post about that), but it has all worked out so far. I didn’t let myself feel pressured to do it anyone else’s […]

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