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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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What’s In a Name? Everything.

…or sometimes nothing.

A few blogs I follow have posted on naming characters recently, and I keep wanting to comment, but I don’t think I should write an essay under some poor, unsuspecting person’s post. I’ve been meaning to break this topic out for a while (really- it’s on my list between “Look, MOAR NEW NOTEBOOK!” and “My cats, let me show you them”). Now seems like as good a time as any to share my experiences and a few thoughts on where to find the perfect name.

I’ll tell you right now: I suck at naming things. I don’t care whether it’s a character, a kid, a cat or a fictional country, I’m terrible at it. If I didn’t have my husband around to help, my kids would be named “Pending” and “Give me another minute to think.” I’m indecisive, and the more important the name is to me, the harder it gets; therefore it was easy to name my goldfish I had in college (Fluffy and Spike, may they float in peace), but it’s really hard for me to name fictional characters….Or to leave their names alone once I’ve picked them.

If I’d written this post two weeks ago, I would have told you that there’s only one significant character in Bound who hasn’t had a name change. I can’t say that anymore; now it’s all of them. Seems none of my beta readers were familiar with a YA series in which two protagonists are named Cassia and Kai… which are the names of a brother and sister in my books.

Huh.

Well, Kai’s keeping his name, so I guess Cassia’s getting a slight identity alteration. Bugger.

It’s not like it’s the first time it’s happened; like I said, they’ve all changed. I’d have loved to name my female main character after my favourite girl in my favourite book, but you can’t let someone in a story with magic go around with the name Abra (bonus points if you now know what my favourite book is). Abra… Cadabra. Not so much. I tried so many names on her, and absolutely nothing worked. It was enough to make me cry. I don’t want to give away the reason I finally settled on Rowan, but she is named after a tree (shrub?), and it suits her character. Good enough.

Aren was worse- he doesn’t make anything easy. Never has. Some of my friends were kind enough to let me bounce name ideas off of them, but nothing ever seemed to fit (and these sessions generally devolved into a laugh-fest of ridiculous suggestions, anyway). He had different names in two drafts of the book that were completely wrong; finally I just took out the list of potentials, started picking sounds I liked and smooshed them together in different combinations until something sounded right.

It’s a highly technical process, I won’t go into details.

Strange thing was, when I plugged my mish-mash into a baby names website, it came up as a Scandinavian name that nearly made me spit my drink all over the computer when I read the meaning listed for it. It was perfect, so much so that no one would ever believe that I got the name before the meaning.

That wasn’t the first strange coincidence to smack me in the face while I was writing this one, or the last. It was a really good one, though.

Other names came easier. Once Rowan had her name, her brother Ashe and sister Willow fell into theirs quite naturally; their parents are like that, I guess, with the coordinating names. I’m not judging. My dragon got her sort-of-name from her colour, certain water-dwelling folk drifted naturally toward aqua-centric names. Others were more difficult; bad guys need bad guy names, countries need… country names.

At least animals were easy.

So where did I find all of these fantastic names for my characters?

Everywhere.

Baby names websites are a good resource. Some, like babynames.com, will let you search by meaning, by origin, by gender, by first letter, or any combination of those. Handy, no? Great if you name characters by meaning. I usually don’t, becauseI think it can spoil surprises for readers, but it can work. Also, you learn some interesting things, like the fact that the name “Benjamin” means “Son of my right hand.” Very nice name, but seems like a piss-poor way to conceive a child.

*ahem* Moving on…

Geography: My big bad, Severn, shares his name with a river in the UK. Also a town in Ontario, but I prefer the river. It has an appropriately bloody history, apparently beginning with the drowning of a nymph, and the name is kind of scary. I didn’t learn about the body count until after I’d picked the name, but again, works for me.

Botany: Already covered this, see Rowan’s family (above).

Meaning: Obviously the aforementioned water-dwellers. Also, Rowan’s cousin Felicia. She’s a happy lass… for now. Wait for book 2.

Associations: No offense to anyone with names I’m going to mention here, OK? No hard feelings? Good. But some names just bring certain associations to mind, at least for me. Callum Langley comes from a good family. His father Dorset was just knighted. Can you imagine the same of Englebert Dingleberry and his father, Sheldon? No, neither can I. Sometimes I just picked names that sounded right.

Minor jokes: This one probably won’t survive final edits, but it amuses me greatly for now (small things, etcetera). There’s a guy whose sole purpose in the story is to die. He deserves it, but he doesn’t get a lot of dialogue before it happens. His name’s Mort. I like it, but I suspect it’s too punny for most readers. But hey, if something like that works for your story, I say run with it!

Zoology: I haven’t done it yet, but if a character had animal-like qualities, I’d check out the Latin names for a species to see if there’s anything there.

Mythology: J.K. Rowling uses this brilliantly in the Harry Potter books- now THERE’S someone who can work with names! Remus Lupin… should be obvious exactly what he is based on name alone, but it works. They all do. Best names ever.

Literature: Obviously this didn’t work out so well for me, but why not think over your favourite books and characters? Just be mindful of the associations thing I mentioned above. Naming a character Scarlett will give readers a very different feeling from naming her Martha.

Diseases: No, not really. But come on, admit it: Chlamydia sounds like the name of a Nymph or something, doesn’t it? Damn right it does. This is why it pays to at least check on the meaning of the brilliant name you’ve come up with.

Just keep your eyes open. Write down names you like, even when you’re not working on that aspect of a project. They’ll come in handy some day.

Oh, and one caution that a friend reminded me of during this process: If your reader doesn’t know how to pronounce the name, it’s going to be a distraction. Saorise and Siobhan are gorgeous names; many people will at best completely butcher them in their minds and at worst give up completely.*

Kwar’snix!blarg7f9att is not a gorgeous name, and no one should ever use it. Same principle applies.

Wow, this post is a lot longer than I meant it to be. Clearly I have a lot of issues to work out with this one. I’m traumatized, guys. My final recommendation if you find yourself in my position (ie being a complete moron about names): just pick a frigging name and plug it in there. “Find and replace” works, you can change it later. Yes, names will probably impact how you perceive your characters, but a placeholder name will get you a lot farther in your story than nothing.

So, where do you find names for your cats, characters, children, goldfish, etc?

*I’m not saying to never use these names, or others that aren’t pronounced the way they’re spelled, or that are confusing. But if you can slip in someone learning how to pronounce the name, it’s really helpful (see J.K. Rowling again, using a student from another school to clarify the pronunciation of Hermione’s name in The Goblet of Fire, and Jacqueline Carey using the same trick in Kushiel’s Dart). Very helpful for those of us who hear words in our heads when we’re reading and get frustrated when that trips us up.


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