Some people choose a word at the beginning of the year to be their theme, keep their goals on-track, and direct their work. I think that’s a fantastic idea. I might even try it for 2015.
See, I have a hard time remembering my word, which makes it somewhat ineffective. But one thing I can do right now is look back at 2014 and spot the One Thing. The lesson I learned. The progress in my personal character arc that this section of my story pulled out of me.
2014 was the year I learned to trust my instincts.
(This is going to be a writing/publishing/sales post. You’re excused if this topic bores you. No hard feelings. We’ll talk about future projects next time, which should be more exciting for most of us. WHEE, FUN!)
See, independent publishing is a wonderful thing, or at least it can be under the right circumstances. But it is a business as much as it is a creative endeavour, and it requires a LOT of decision-making.
And me? I suck at decisions.
I find it hard to believe how much happened this year. As of early 2014 I was firmly prepared to get Bound out to the world by publishing it myself. I had considered the options and decided not to seek out an agent and publishing contract for this project. I’d booked an editor, paid my deposit, and was… actually, I was still tearing my hair out over the decision. I knew I had the right editor, I’d picked an amazing cover designer, and I felt confident that I had a solid story even if I knew it still needed work.
But I had doubts. I read success stories, but I read more about people who were excited to be earning coffee money from their books. This is not to say that that’s not an achievement. Reaching even one reader and giving them a story they fall in love with is the goal. To change one person, to have an impact on her… it’s mind-blowing. It’s why I do this.
But when you’re paying several thousand dollars for production costs and want to maintain the same standards on book two, you want to make that back ASAP. And there are no guarantees. None. Amazing books do poorly and crap rises to the top as often as it goes the other way.
And on top of that, there are the well-meaning friends who have gone ahead with publishing their work who tell you, “Yeah, have fun with your book getting ignored. You can’t do it without an agent and a publisher. Trust me.”
It can become difficult to have confidence in your plans, you know? But my instincts told me this was the way to go (emphasis on me–this is not for everyone). My gut said I could do it myself, but I couldn’t go it alone. I couldn’t do my own editing and cover design. But I was starting a business, and those things were the expenses I’d have to handle if I wanted it to have a chance at success. I made the decision, and it felt right.
And yet I still hesitated.
For a real example of how uncertain I was, look no further than the fact that I didn’t officially announce Bound’s upcoming release until after I got edits back and realized that though the manuscript bled red from every page, I could handle the changes.
It’s like not really committing to a relationship until you’re walking down the aisle.
But I digress.
The Other Stuff
It wasn’t all about the method of publication, though that was absolutely the biggest decision I had to trust my gut on in 2014.
There were the decisions I had to make about which developmental suggestions to take from my editor. All were good suggestions; not all fit my vision for the story and the direction I wanted to take the series. I stuck to my guns on one huge aspect of the love story, the end of the book, and… actually, I took almost every other suggestion, including re-working the back-story for the entire world.
And it worked. It’s not a perfect book (I don’t believe such a thing exists), but it’s the one I wanted to write.
There was the cover art, and on this I had to trust someone else’s experience and instincts. I wanted something symbolic, but nothing we came up with had the impact a book needs to sell. We talked about a cover with a character on it–an idea I instinctively balked at, but that turned into a cover that has gained a lot of attention from readers. Ravven knows book covers. I don’t. Even when I wasn’t 100% sure on the finished product, I trusted the part of me that said to trust her.
And it worked.
There was the question of going with Amazon’s KDP Select and gaining extra promo opportunities, or distributing more widely. That’s its own post, and we’ve talked about it before. I stayed out of Select, and have only occasionally and temporarily regretted that decision. Have I missed some opportunities to promote? Yes. Has Amazon punished me for it? Absolutely not. I sell over 90% of my books there. They’ve been amazing.
So yeah, that seems to be working for me. Whew!
I had to decide whether to heavily promote Bound when it was my only book, or put that time and energy into working on the next one. I chose the latter.
No regrets there.
There were lovely e-mails from people at companies I won’t name here asking about audio rights or publication opportunities. I accepted one offer and regretfully declined discussion on another that I’d have jumped at a year ago, but that didn’t fit my plan for this series at this time.
That was a tough one. I do hope to work with those people on another project some day. But I followed my instincts again, and I feel good about my decision.
There was the pricing issue. There’s some pressure to release a first novel at 99 cents to try to get more impulse purchases, or to make it free just on the off chance that people might read it if it’s in their Kindles. I struggled with this for a long time. I had invested a lot into this book, both in time and money. I had an eye-catching cover, a blurb that I thought worked, and a sample that I trusted to draw readers in. My gut told me to let those things to do their job and let the sales come as they may.
There’s nothing wrong with 99 cent sales, or 99 cent releases, or perma-free first books in series. You have to do what works for you, and I’ll do occasional sales in the future. But I knew that three bucks was a hell of a deal for this book. Heck, $4.99 is a bargain. Amazon says I should price it higher, but I don’t.**
I’m doing what feels right for me when it comes to pricing, price changes, and sales. I’m not dropping the price just to chase Amazon ranking. I’m gathering honest review. I’m trying to really connect with people through social media instead of spamming.
Everything is about long-term strategy, and so far, it’s working.
The results of trusting my instincts
How well is it working?
Ugh. I hate to talk about it, but I do find it helpful when other authors share results, so here goes.
Thanks to a combination of factors***, Bound stayed in the top 10 of several sub-category Best Seller lists all summer, and sat at #1 on two of them for quite a while. It’s still in two top 50’s, and in the top 100 of a third six months after release.
At its best day, it was in the top 500 overall on Amazon.com. At its lowest, it’s hovered around 10,000. I expect this to keep dropping, and that’s fine. Really. Juuuust fine.
As of the six month mark (Christmas Eve), it had sold over 15,000 copies in e-book.
It’s not NYT Bestseller stuff by any stretch, but not at all bad for a debut from an unknown indie author with no massive social media following, no industry connections, no money for promotion, no offering the book for free (except as advance review copies) and thus far no 99 cent sales.
I put the number here simply to add another entry to the “Yeah, this is possible” column. You hear a lot about how “the wild west land of indie publishing opportunity is over,” but it’s still possible for readers to discover your book. There is hope. Always.
Have I made mistakes and missed opportunities? Absolutely. And I will continue to make them, and miss them. But I will also continue to read as much as I can on the industry, on what people are doing that works, and what doesn’t. I find that my instincts only work if I feed them with information.
That’s why I’m posting this for you to read. I don’t care to talk about money. I hesitated to even post sales numbers. But it’s time for me to give back to the author community that has supported me, and as I’m not comfortable offering advice, I’ll share experience. I hope my experiences will help feed your instincts.
This isn’t a road map, though.
There’s no one right way to do this, and I mistrust anyone who says there is. For me, the key is being informed, staying flexible, making decisions I’m comfortable with, never taking advantage of others for my own gain, being grateful for everything, and above all maintaining my commitment to producing quality work.
Your mileage may, of course, vary.
You know what? I’m calling my word for next year. It’s going to be Flexibility.
There’s an 80% chance that this is the same word I chose last year, but that’s fine. It’s working. It means learning, it means shaking off the negative and steering for the positive. It means trying new things that might not work out, but that I also might learn from.
Next post, we’ll set some goals and talk about upcoming releases. YAY!
So tell me: What did you learn this year, either in your personal or professional life? Anything that might help the rest of us out?
**Mostly because I almost never pay more than $5 for an e-book myself, unless it’s a box set, something that I’m desperate to have, or occasionally to support author friends. I like e-books, but their limitations mean I won’t pay paperback prices for them. $5 for something I’m only licensing for personal use seems reasonable to me.^
^That said, never say never. As the industry changes, so will my opinions and tactics. This is a faintly-drawn line in the sand, not a stone wall. Flexibility!
***We can talk about this in another post, if anyone cares to. I have theories. But this post is already way too long.