Since my publishing story was featured a few days ago in the KDP March Newsletter from Amazon, I’ve had a few authors ask me what I did that worked, and for advice on how to get their own books noticed. I should preface this by saying that (a) like many authors who sell pretty well, I really don’t know “why,” and (b) the way I did it was a little “too easy.” In fact, that was my reaction when I sold well my first month out of the gate: “It can’t be this easy.” So I definitely got a bit lightning-struck, had some good luck I can’t account for, and Your Mileage May Vary, and all that.
With that in mind, here’s what I did, and some things that I think may have helped.
1. Genre. This may be super-obvious, but 25% of all books sold in the U.S. are romance. And romance readers are very generous and willing to try new authors, including self-published ones. So if you are inclined that way, it’ll help. (Other genre fiction also does pretty well.)
2. Self-Publishing. If you do well at all, you’ll make a whole lot more money self-publishing than going through a publisher (unless you hit the really big leagues.) I didn’t have much of a choice, if I wanted to get started—no publisher or agent was interested. But I’m so glad they weren’t! Amazon pays 70% on books priced over $2.99. Publishers don’t. And nobody has the actual statistics, but it looks like a good half of books sold online in Romance, at least, are ebooks.
3. Series. By the time I made the decision to self-publish, I had three books in a series. (Not a “series” in the sense of the same story continuing, but stand-alone books set in the same “world.”) And that’s good, because (a) series sell, and (b) starting out with multiple books in the series is great, if you can manage it. Give readers something else to read, if they like the first book.
4. Title and Series Title. I think about half my success was due to titling the series “Escape to New Zealand”—and writing about New Zealand to begin with. You have to have something, some hook, that is special, that pulls a reader in and makes them pause and think, “huh, that sounds interesting.” I also decided to make all the titles related. I knew I wanted to call the second book “Just Good Friends,” so I decided to make all the books start with “Just.” It’s all part of branding—you want your titles, your covers, everything to look similar. Anything to help people remember that “those “Just” books” were written by you. I also wanted all my titles to be ironic. I thought they’d resonate a little more that way.
5. Cover. The other half of my success is probably due to my covers! I wrote a blog post that you can read here about creating book covers (with the help of a cover artist, which I highly, highly recommend).
6. Blurb. You have seconds to catch readers’ attention. Your cover and title are the first things. The second thing is your blurb. It takes TIME to get it right. Here’s another post I wrote about writing a romance blurb. If you can’t get it good enough yourself, you can hire somebody to do it, and it’s worth it.
7. Editing and Formatting. You’ll sell a lot more if your book is properly edited and formatted. Some readers will forgive mistakes, sure, if the story is compelling enough, but why put barriers in their (and your) way?
8. Website, Facebook Page. Before I published, I had a website and Facebook page background created (using a WordPress template for the website, but hiring a wonderful web designer) to integrate with my covers and give me a branded author “look.” Basically, I didn’t want anything about my books—covers, blurbs, website, Facebook page—to look self-published. I wanted it all to look smooth and professional, and I do think it helped. I also wanted to offer a value-added experience—fun things a reader could read and listen to and watch about New Zealand after she read the book. I think it helped. As far as what I share on Facebook: I try to make a lot of it just sharing interesting stuff, not just “buy my book”! I try to listen and respond as well as talk. Just be myself, be nice, be open.
9. Visibility. Everything I did after publication had one main goal: Visibility. This is the key thing you need. There are about 2 million Kindle books out there. No matter how great your book is, people need to SEE it for you to sell it. So every marketing and publishing decision I made had that as its bottom-line goal: “Will this make me more visible”? Starting with:
10. Free. People love to beat up on the free-book idea. “You get what you pay for” and all that. Well, free books are the best way I’ve found to get visible. The difference between a (promoted) free book offer and a (promoted) 99-cent offer, for me, is ten to twenty times the number of downloads. I’ve had five-day “free offer” periods with up to 92,000 books given away. That’s a LOT of eyeballs on your book, even if only 5% of them read the book right away. Here’s a post I wrote about a recent free offer and how I promoted it. All I can say is, “free” is how I sold 2,000 books in my first month. I gave away 14,000 books a week into my “publishing career,” and BAM, things took off from there. In my fifth month, January 2013, I did an offer and gave away the above-mentioned 92,000+ books. I sold 20,000 books for cash money that month. So, yeah, free worked for me, and it’s still working. (I also use Countdown, and that’s worked too, but “free” is still Top Dog in my book.)
11. Blog Tour. I did these early on (I use Reading Addiction Blog Tours) to help get reviews and, yes, visibility. And no, they aren’t “bought,” and they won’t necessarily be positive! In fact, my blog review average is quite a bit lower than my reader review average. Bloggers read critically, and they’re pickier! But you get real, credible reviews, and reviews help. I still do promo blitzes on the new books. They’re not expensive, and, hey, visibility.
12. Ads. I tried a few ads, but nothing did that much, other than advertising my promos, which worked spectacularly. (If you’ve never heard of BookBub, look it up, because BookBub is The Bomb.)
13. Pricing Strategy. I started out with three books priced at $3.99 apiece, because that was where good-selling authors in my genre priced their books. Note: Pricing is very genre-specific. I wanted to send a quality signal without overpricing my books. (My books are also relatively long for my genre.) When I had Book 4 out, I lowered the price on Book 1 to 99 cents. (See “Visibility,” above.) It was when I did the “Free offer,” and then had the book at 99 cents after it came off Free, that my sales exploded. A month later, I lowered the prices on all the other books to $2.99, BECAUSE I was selling so well. I didn’t want any barriers in the way of people buying my books. I kept the prices low like that for about 5 months, then raised them again to $3.99 on all but the first book. I will probably raise them to $4.99 pretty soon—because that’s where VERY good-selling authors in my genre price, and, again, quality signal.
14. Second Series. I did what some people would call a stupid thing. With four books out and my books just taking off, I wrote the first book in a second series. I did that because that was the book I wanted to write, the book in my head, and I feared that if I waited, I’d be too scared to try something new. I was terrified that nobody would buy a “non-New Zealand” book, and indeed, my sales were only about 50% of the NZ books for the new book—UNTIL I published Book 2 in the series. Then they picked right up, and then some! And all the really good stuff that’s come to me, came with the publication of that second series. That showed the people at Amazon and elsewhere that I wasn’t a one-trick pony, that I could write other types of books. I’m very, very glad I wrote that second series. (Now I’m working on another book in the New Zealand series. Going back and forth also keeps me fresher.)
15. Write What You Love. As a corollary to the above—I think the only way a book will resonate with readers is if it first resonated with YOU. I’m sure writing to the market has worked for some people, but for me, I have to live and breathe my book. I have to love it for it to be any good, for the characters to come to life. (Maybe if you wrote more plot-based books, it’d be different.)
16. Paperbacks and Audiobooks. I sell hardly any paperbacks, but I think having them available gives you credibility. Plus, they look nice! Audiobooks—I just published my first one. It’s sold OK in its first month, but again, I think you need multiple titles to start gaining momentum. (My second will come out next month.) BUT audiobooks are very expensive. I wouldn’t have done it if I weren’t already selling a LOT of ebooks. It’s a pricey gamble—but again, more exposure, more credibility.
And that’s pretty much it! That’s all the stuff I did, what worked and didn’t, my best advice, for what it’s worth. I hope it helps!