From Zero to Launch – Collaborations (Part 1)

One thing that I was 100% positive of when I started learning the writing business was: I am going to write my stuff and only my stuff.  Figuring out which path was the best for my journey between traditional publishing and indie publishing was hard enough.  The thought of having to work with someone else on a creative project as well seemed impossibly difficult.  

So what happens at the first writer’s conference I attend?  Yup, that’s right, I signed up to write in another world.  

Why the heck did I do that?  Collaborations were supposed to be a hard no, right?

At the conference, there were some really good points made about why and when to work with others.  Not all of those points resonated with me, but a few did. I am not going to cover all those points – be honest I only wrote down the ones that made sense to me, but I’ll want to share what my thought process was in decided to work with this group of people.

First things first are the ‘why nots’.  It’s important to me to firmly define the barriers to doing a thing, so I can make an informed decision.  Barriers can be a good thing too, let’s not forget that. They are called boundaries and should be respected when they are a positive thing. I had a habit of saying yes to just about every project that I was asked to join for years.  

Guess how many actually got done?  

My reasons not to collaborate.  

  1. Time.  
  2. Comfort.
  3. I knew nothing about how coauthoring worked and figuring out how to do this on my own was hard enough.
  4. Money.

I’m going to explain these a little deeper but not in order, so stick with me. 

Let’s be honest here. You have to split the cash in an equitable fashion when you work with other people.  As an unpublished author, half of nothing is still nothing. The thought of sharing a nothing burger or a poorly received book made me wilt inside.  I can do that but I never want to ask someone else to do that. 

The other side of the money issue is true as well. If it was a hit, I’d have to share the wealth.  I’m more than ok with that, teamwork is the way to go for just about everything in life if you want to make a lot of money. The issue for me is the part of me that would always wonder how well I would have done on my own?  It’s a matter of self-worth (using a crappy metric, I know) but I want to know the answer to that question.  

I am very comfortable doing all the different tasks associated with self-publishing, or at least learning how to do them.  Striking out alone made sense, to learn from others but also to learn by doing. I am sure eventually there will be tasks that I will farm out (Cover design for instance) but I want to experience all the things that go into creating a book.

Time is another big piece of the puzzle.  I have a full-time job, a pre-teen daughter, and my girlfriend lives four hours away.  It’s a lot of time in car the on top of work and family. This is a career I’m kicking off with part-time hours.  Splitting my time working on another book project besides my own seemed like a bad idea. Recruiting help was a difficult prospect too since we’d have to find a working cadence that fit for both of us.  

My lack of knowledge made me think that this was one area I could ignore as a new author because working with other people adds complexity.  Starting out I wanted to reduce complexity, even if it took more time to learn new things. Then, once I understood all the pieces of the authoring puzzle, maybe I would look at collaboration.

Turns out my ignorance was the thing that changed my boundaries into barriers. 

That is tomorrow’s post though.  

From Zero to Launch

I’d like to thank the Fantasy Writer for letting me add my thoughts to the blog first and foremost. Now, on to my first blog post about how my initial launch is going.

The Freakout

I have signed myself up to do something potentially stupid, which is to edit and publish my first ever completed book by Oct 31. If I had made this line in the sand back in January, that wouldn’t be so bad, but I”m trying to get it all done in 45 days.  As of this post, it is 33 days from now.

There are a ton of things that I need to complete before I can release the book.  Even more than I had realized, and as a part-time job right now I am finding setting up my author platform and getting ready for this release is a full-time gig.  Intellectually I knew this but it’s amazing how badly I underestimated the effort necessary.

So raise your hand if you hate to show people your creative side until “it’s ready”. Well, no one can see your hand up but you’re not alone. My draft is a hot mess so I am freaking out about this self-imposed publishing deadline.  But I refuse to change it unless I absolutely have to.

There is a lot that needs to be done before I am ready to hit that publish button and send my first work out into the wild all alone, but when I stop to breath there is a lot that I have accomplished.

What I have completed:

  1. A professional email and domain.
    1. I was going to use another one that I owned but my gut told me it wasn’t that professional.  And it was a long name that while easy to remember, people like easy things and typing out a twenty-plus word long domain name is not easy.
  2. Facebook Author page is staged
  3. Book 1 cover is awesome!
    1. Some small things I’d change, maybe – but I am going to roll with it and see how it does.  
  4. Did I mention that I picked up a cover that I love and received great feedback?
  5. Ready to upload and publish my preorder on Amazon.
  6. I have beta readers
  7. I finished my reader magnet
  8. I thought this list was longer.

The list of things I need to do is really too long to go into details so here are the things I need to get done this week.

  1. Finish editing my book so I can get it out to my beta readers. I am 50% done, so there are only 40k words or so left to go. 
  2. Complete my facebook page.  
  3. Setup my newsletter.
  4. Setup my website.

It’s a lengthy post already so I’ll end with this today.   I’d like to say all the work I have done this point was been 100% focused on getting Book 1 out the door but it hasn’t.  In late July, another opportunity writing presented itself and I have been working on that as well. It wasn’t until TFW (The Fantasy Writer) challenged me to release this book with theirs that I got serious about my own work.  So I’m working double-time and I’ll be talking about how that has affected my release.

The First Book

I’m redrafting my first book. It wasn’t hitting the notes I wanted so I changed the setting and the overall arc. It’s going to be submitted to my editor next week and I’ll have a better idea then if it requires further work.

This book isn’t going to be a masterpiece of literature. I just want the readers to enjoy a good story. I want them to get hooked into the story and devour every chapter. I want the book to be impossible for them to put down. That’s not too much to ask for, is it?

It’s so much harder to execute than it appears.

My process is strange, I write the book and then I read it and reread it and wait for the parts where I get bored or lose interest. A lot of my writing is instinctive. I can’t verbalize or explain breakdowns of arcs or character motivation or all that stuff. I suck at discussing craft. All I know is that “something feels off” and I have to figure out a way to fix it. I usually have a vague idea why it feels off and I keep fiddling with it until it starts feeling right.

I need the readers to love this book so that they pick up the next. I need them to love it because it also introduces a character that has a spinoff series in early 2020 and I’m going to put up the pre-order when this book goes live. I’ll be able to determine if I was successful in my pursuit of hookiness based on the number of pre-orders I get for Book 2 and Book 1 of the new series.

So this week is all about fixing the first book and rewriting the first chapter.

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  • Art of the Arcane: This promotion requires a newsletter share.

You can check out their free group promotions here: https://artofthearcane.wordpress.com/upcoming-giveaway-signups-2/

Amazon Ads: 1-9 September 2019

I’ve gotten 68 pre-orders from 1-9 September, averaging 7 books a day. My pre-order record in a single day is 11. In another lifetime that number was in triple digits but a fresh start requires humble expectations.

Why 11 when you can see 12 right there? Well, one pre-order was returned that same day taking the total down to 11.

I’ve referred to advertising as burning money in the past because it is the way I do it. However, I’ve come to a decision that I’m going to set this book up as a loss-leader in order to get the beginnings of a readership. There isn’t much money to be made when advertising a 99c book unless you get readers hooked and buying the next books in the series. I’m going to treat it as such. This book will be the launchpad of my publishing career and it’s worth spending money on that.

My launch strategy involves increasing the spend on Amazon Ads when the book is live and signing up for newsletter promotions. I think a lot of KU readers hunt for books that way so I believe it would be effective in getting more borrows.

Another method I’m going to use is free author promotions. I’ll discuss that in more detail in the next post.

I’ll share how much money was spent advertising the book if it recoups its losses. Until then, I’ll share how many pre-orders I’m achieving and if I beat the record of 11 per day.

It’s the Little Things

Today was an admin day. All these little things add up to a mountain so I decided to tackle everything so I could start the week fresh and just write.

Things I did:

Updated my Author Website: This has been long overdue. I changed the theme, customized it, scrubbed the old posts and updated the pages. Still to do is post new content this upcoming week to replace all the posts I purged. I also have to establish a social media calendar to ensure I post content across my blog, twitter account, and instagram. They’re all pretty empty at the moment.

Linked UK & Canada Stores on Amazon Associates OneClick: I’m planning to host weekly posts featuring books and I want to add affiliate links to them. Affiliate links are an easy way to make some extra money. The holidays are coming up and people buy a lot of things on Amazon. I’m hoping to get some of that action.

Signed up for ConvertKit: Started a paid subscription. I got my first batch of subscribers from a list builder I signed up for. (I’ll discuss my list building approach in a separate post.) I created a couple of forms and integrated them into my author website.

Discussed Fonts: I contacted one of my cover designers on the font he has on my covers. It seems like a little thing but it’s time consuming. I really want my branding to be consistent. I have a nice author font across the covers I’ve commissioned from various cover artists but I decided I want this cover designer to have a different font. I want a thicker font that stands out in thumbnail size. I had to hunt for fonts and share them with him so he could test them on the covers he’s designed. I still haven’t found the perfect one. This is a work-in-progress.

Modified an Existing Promotion Website: I have an existing book promotion website that I haven’t touched since early this year. I scrubbed all references to my pen name. Starting Tuesday, I’ll be sending out regular emails to the existing newsletter contacts. I plan to run a book fair in November so I will reach out to the author subscribers next month to set that up.

Created a Google Form for Author Newsletter Swaps and Promotions: I realized I need to take full advantage of seeing a lot of authors at November’s conference. My plan is to have a lot of business cards on hand with a QR code to the google form. Ideally I’d get fantasy authors that want to help promote my book in return for me promoting theirs.

Started Designing the Business Card: This is a work in progress. I need a couple of book covers to be finalized, which means I need to choose a font, and then I can finish the design and order the cards.

Updated my Expenses File: I’ve left some paid invoices in my inbox. Updating my expenses file meant I could finally clean out my inbox by filing them away, and have a better idea of how much I’ve spent so far on everything (the answer: too much).

Now that I have my admin sorted, I can focus on writing for the week.

The First Chapter

Why is the first chapter the most difficult chapter to write? Do you feel the same way or am I the only one? I agonize over the first sentence and the first paragraph and everything in between until I reach the ending and wonder if I have placed a sufficient hook.

Today I spent five hours writing a first chapter. I wrote a first draft, rewrote it, and kept poking at it. By the end of the day I still wasn’t happy with what I had produced.

I was supposed to finalize it to show to a friend in the morning. And by morning I mean eight hours from now. I should probably sleep. It’s 2 AM and I’m supposed to meet her at 10 AM.

Any other day, I would talk into a microphone, transcribe it, and edit it at a later date. I still agonize over that first chapter but it’s not as stressful. This time it’s different. I want to get into a story bundle so I’m putting a lot more pressure on myself to get that first chapter just right.

If there’s anything I’ve learned from my past is that I do worse when I put more effort into something. I know, it’s weird. I overthink things and the magic disappears with all my second-guessing and editing.

I should have salvaged the first draft of that first chapter.

I’m going to start over again tomorrow. Start from scratch and let the words flow, and then give that to her and see what she thinks of it.

Amazon Pre-order Changes

Amazon changed their pre-order policy a couple of days ago from 90 days to 1 year. In addition, you can now extend your book a month from the pre-order date you’ve set without any penalties (one time exception).

I believe this is going to change the landscape of Amazon. How? I’m not sure yet. I have a couple of theories. I think ad spend will increase and keywords will become more competitive. I also think you’ll be seeing more of the big names at the top of the charts for a longer period of time. Competition is going to get more tough but it won’t be hopeless. There are still plenty of opportunities.

I read someone’s comment on Facebook that authors are limited to 10 pre-orders at a time. I haven’t looked up the veracity of this statement but if it’s true then it should curb the number of titles competing against each other and things won’t get too out-of-hand.

How does this change affect my release schedule? Personally, it’s a relief that I don’t have to release a book within a 90-day window in order to get the pre-order link for my back matter. I do have to restructure my publishing schedule to take into account the changes and I’m debating the merits of having a preorder up so early.

Rapid releases are great, but personally I believe it’s better for a book to build momentum over time and slowly gain a large readership. That’s why I’m in favor of long pre-orders and time in between releases.

I’m going to have a few release experiments in 2020 such as:

  • Rapid releasing 5 books in a series in one month.
  • Releasing 1 book in a series two months apart for the year.
  • Releasing 3 books and 1 volume (3 books in 1) within the same sub-genre on the same date to compare which approach is the best for income.
  • Releasing 3 books on Amazon in a single day without having them on pre-order.

Now that Amazon has extended pre-orders I can start my experiments earlier. Over the next couple of weeks I’m going to finalize my covers and blurbs so that I can start putting up a few of my 2020 releases for pre-order.

Burning Money…

…also known as advertising.

One of my goals during this journey is to learn how to advertise without setting money on fire.

I’ve used 3 advertising strategies so far, Amazon ads, Bookbub ads, and newsletter promotions.

Results are as follows:

  • Amazon AdsOh look! My sales went up! It cost me how much?? I can get Amazon to spend my money and get results, not amazing results by any means, but I did see my sales increase.
  • Bookbub AdsWell, that money disappeared into thin air. I can get Bookbub ads to spend my money and zilch. Zero effect.
  • Newsletter PromotionsHmm, I guess people were right about them losing effectiveness. I used 3 newsletter promotions to rather lackluster results.

I’ve seen many authors advise not to start advertising until your third book is out.

I don’t agree with that.

I want readers to be waiting for my third book.

I want readers to be hovering over the preorder button and weep in joy when my book finally appears on their Kindles. Okay, maybe not weep. I’d settle for being happy that the book they’ve waited for is finally theirs to read.

The thing is, readers can’t be waiting for something if they don’t know it exists.

So I advertise…

Another reason advertising book 1 is important is that you learn what’s working and what’s not. My lessons cost me money. Don’t be like me.

I changed blurbs and advertising strategies with the following results:

  • Blurb 1 + medium-bid Amazon ads + newsletter promotions = 45 sales over 1 month
  • Blurb 2 + Bookbub ads + low-bid Amazon ads = zero sales over 21 days
  • Blurb 3 + high-bid Amazon ads = 34 sales over 12 days.

I’m not happy with Blurb 3 but it’s getting more sales than Blurb 1 or 2. I definitely need to work on my conversion rate and figure out what the issue is there. I had 521 clicks but only 34 converted into sales. That has to be improved.

Above are the results of the ads from Blurb 3. The numbers makes me cringe when I see how much I’ve spent versus how much I’ve made in sales. And I haven’t even shared what I spent on Blurb 1 and Blurb 2 ads. But I keep reminding myself that right now my objective is to capture readers. I want them to give my book a chance and hopefully they’ll enjoy it and move on to the next.

I’m starting from a position of zero readership. I’ve accepted that Book 1 will be a loss-leader and established how much money is allowed to be burned in the chase for readers. I’ve allowed myself a grace period in 2019 to spend in order to gain readers but I will have to be more fiscally responsible in 2020.

I need to fix the numbers above over the next three months so that I can launch into 2020 in a stronger position with advertising.

#2020Goal: Stop burning money on advertising.

The Fantasy Writer

I set up this blog to chronicle my self-publishing journey, my achievements and missteps, in the hope that it will be helpful to someone. Even if at the end of the day the lesson is don’t do what I did.

The main reason however is that I need an accountability space. This will be it.

I’ll try to be as honest as I can without revealing my identity. My numbers will be 100% accurate (you’ll see exactly how much money I burn) but some data may not timely and some information may be cagey.

If you do know my identity please don’t reveal it.

So what are my goals? My goals are to be able to quit my job and go full-time as an author in 2 years’ time. Ideally it would be less than two years (I’d love reach this goal by March 2021) but I’m giving myself two years to make this work.

How am I going to do it?

  • Write stories people want to read
  • Publish the books on a rapid release schedule
  • Build up a rabid following
  • Rinse and repeat

I’ll break down the steps of how I attempt to tackle each bullet point above over the course of my journey and how well it’s going.