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Cassiepoe
06-11-2012, 05:13 AM
Just a few notes from the battle field of a brand-new self-pubber (Amazon, Smashwords) so far. This got kind of long, sorry!

It took me about three months to decide to self-pub, and the decision was the culmination of several factors. Originally, my plan of attack was to go with a two-pronged strategy: 1) write a few stories for the trade market and see what happened to them 2) also write the material I really wanted to keep full control of and put them out into the Kindles and Nooks and e-readers of the world.

A friend of mine, AS, had a friend of hers, VK, who writes regularly for the trades. VK had been queried by an editor of an anthology opening up in my particular sub-genre that she, herself, wasn't really familiar with. VK told AS, and AS told VK that I write in that genre. VK said 'have her send me a story and I'll look at it'. Back and forth a few times, I was soon sending the story in question to VK. VK gave me a super crash course in pro-level editing, submission formatting, query letters and provided really great beta and editorial help for the story. After the second round, she liked it and agreed to pass it up stream to the anthology editor. Unfortunately, said editor didn't accept the story -- I got a "just doesn't work for me" rejection. Okay, I asked VK, what's next? And she sent me a list of several other places to try the story. I immediately flung the story to the next trade, where I got another rejection a couple of weeks later -- same deal, "just not right for us right now". I promptly sent it on to location 3, where it is still in the queue. I expect another "just not right for us" from this market, too. It may actually not be that good of a story, I'm not sure.

Okay, so, phase 1 of my brilliant plan turns out to take a really, really long time. And I'm not even sure that it's actually going to end in publication any time between now and the next 2 years. (VK told me that it can take as long as 8 years to get a story through the trades - do I seriously, at 40, have that long to wait? Just for the sake of getting my name on a magazine cover maybe? I really don't know about that. I'm still not sure now.)

Anyway, while phase 1 is still going on -- maybe I'll get that story sold someday -- I took a long hard look at my disappointment with myself. I read a lot of websites and a lot of different opinions, all of which came down to a solid 'nobody's really sure, do what feels right for you in your guts'.

Confused and figuring I had nothing to lose, I decided it was still a good idea to proceed with phase 2. So I started working on the first story for the e-readers, which took about three months to complete start to finish. I went through seven different drafts to reach the final version, nagged and pleaded for my literate friends to read the thing for me and be absolutely brutally honest about the content. Thankfully, they were.

They called me out on misanthrophic writing (in one draft) and confusing motivations (in another). I ran myself through the wringer in ways I can't even describe: one memory I'll have forever is finishing draft #6 over the course of a hard day, feeling like 'this is it, this is ready to go'... then waking up the next morning, taking another look at the piece and nearly dying of embarrassment.

I cursed and ate all the chocolate I could find in the house and went back on the Word warpath again. Draft 7 is the one that's currently out there in the field. So far, I've had some nice responses when I put up fragments in freebie-places, but of course, given that it's a drop in a huge ocean and a short story, I don't know that it can ever really get any traction. So confrontating that expectation, I decided that really, the point of all this was to get the stories out there before I die. At some point, if I just keep at it, the momentum will come; I had to convince myself of that.

It's really even too early to say if this is going to work or not- the piece has been up a grand total of two days and isn't even finished being processed through Smashword's system yet - it will probably not hit the Premium Catalog for another few days.

I guess if anything, my experience so far boils down to the following bullet points:

1. Be patient. EVERYTHING takes longer than you expect, even if you are the sole editor, author, publisher, cover artist, publicist and dishwasher. Just because you can write 2000 words a day or 6000 words in a week doesn't mean you're done. That's just the first revision, after all.
2. Your beta readers are smarter than you are. Be glad of that and embrace it wholeheartedly. They are going to see things you never even thought of; if you're lucky, it'll be things that make your story better.
3. Lower your expectations. When I tell people that I'm going into self-publishing, well-meaning people like to tell me (ad nauseum) the story about "the troll lady", and all of those other self-publishing miracle stories. They don't understand that most of those people basically got hit by lightning. I won't. You won't. It's okay. Do it anyway.
4. Give every draft at least 24 hours to congeal.
5. You can't get there except by doing, and you can't learn about writing except by actually writing. All the books, notes, opinions and advice in the world are useless if you don't actually do the work.
6. It is hard, hard work. I have spent the last 48 hours since public release doing all kinds of things that aren't writing, but are deeply important to a self-publishing 'business'. I've updated what feels like a thousand author pages. I've tweeted three times a day or more from the main promotional account. I've built a new Facebook page for the stories. I've created coupons. I've pleaded for reviews from my friends. I've lowered the prices to see if it helps. I'm still on the lookout for more places and more ways to promote the story. The downside: I'm not writing right now. I'm promoting. Will it be enough? Is it worth it? I honestly have no idea. It's a full-time job that I'm not even getting paid for, because sales aren't happening and copies (even free ones) aren't moving.

The things that I like about self-publishing so far: the ability to experiment with almost any aspect of the presentation, from blurb to cover to pricing to giving the whole damn thing away for free on the Internet. The control of knowing that good or bad, I have something out there. Right now, right this minute, it's the best thing I could do. And I did it. Maybe the next story will be better; maybe I'll get hit by a bus tomorrow. Who knows?

I think at a certain point everyone has to decide if they want to just jump in or not. And if you jump in, you have to jump in with both feet.

(edited for typo fixes.)

TheHungryFreelancer
06-11-2012, 05:45 AM
Thanks for sharing. I was pretty wary of self publishing at first but overall, I've been pretty happy. I agree that one of the biggest things people forget is that it really takes a lot of time. You have to promote, promote, promote, and getting things going takes a LOT of patience, but it can and will pay off.

Cassiepoe
06-11-2012, 05:50 AM
Thanks for sharing. I was pretty wary of self publishing at first but overall, I've been pretty happy. I agree that one of the biggest things people forget is that it really takes a lot of time. You have to promote, promote, promote, and getting things going takes a LOT of patience, but it can and will pay off.

Yes! Fortunately, I'm kind of interested in marketing and promoting -- even if figuring out how to come up with another way to tweet "Hey, I have a free book, you guys should read it!" gets a little tougher after the tenth time -- but I still feel like I must be going about promotions all wrong.

I don't think it's the story that's the real problem, I think the writing on this is fine, but the lack of network opportunities is my big, big, #1 enemy. I don't have a huge social network to push everything through, and there are more closed doors than open for short stories that don't go through the trades, I think. Making Things Harder For Myself -- that's how I roll. ;D

merrihiatt
06-11-2012, 06:24 AM
It sounds like you have realistic expectations and are willing to do the hard work of self-publishing as well as subbing to trade publishers. Good luck and keep us posted on your journey.

Cassiepoe
06-11-2012, 07:03 AM
It sounds like you have realistic expectations and are willing to do the hard work of self-publishing as well as subbing to trade publishers. Good luck and keep us posted on your journey.

Hee, I'm not sure my expectations have ever been really realistic -- there's still a part of me that believes that if I just make that one right connection somehow, the sky will rain flowers and candy! :D

Cassiepoe
06-11-2012, 08:30 AM
One thing I just considered and have changed:

I don't think my original blurb was working in my favor. It's not terribly compelling or clear:

"When human terrorists attack a party for the unveiling of the newest Singularity prototype, Chief Security Officer Shell, and reporter Angel Martinez, must try to survive the night and discover the reasons behind the attack."

Thinking about it, this isn't very enticing to anyone who isn't me. Who are these people, and where do they live, and why do I care? What's the stakes? I guess even blurbs have to be a kind of mini-story in and of themselves..

This is the version that's live on Smashwords now and will be when Amazon gets around to updating:

"In the city of Singularity, California, humans co-exist with advanced machines called "helots". When human terrorists attack a party celebrating the unveiling of the newest helot prototype, Chief Security Officer Shell and reporter Angel Martinez must try to survive the night and discover the reasons behind the attack."

This may still not be the best or most effective blurb, but at least now there's a location, and a stab at expressing the scale of the situation. There is a city, these people live there, this is how the event in the story affects them and why it's more relevant.

Old Hack
06-11-2012, 09:30 AM
Cassie, we have a section called Share Your Work where you can get critiques on your blurb: but you can't start a thread there until you've made at least fifty posts. If you want to get the most out of that room, spend time in there helping other writers in order to get up to the required number of posts, and then you're more likely to receive help in return. And please don't be tempted to bring your count up with a string of one-liners--we do delete such posts.

Cassiepoe
06-11-2012, 09:37 AM
Cassie, we have a section called Share Your Work where you can get critiques on your blurb: but you can't start a thread there until you've made at least fifty posts. If you want to get the most out of that room, spend time in there helping other writers in order to get up to the required number of posts, and then you're more likely to receive help in return. And please don't be tempted to bring your count up with a string of one-liners--we do delete such posts.

Sorry if that's the impression! I'll take a look at the section in the morning. I'm not at all concerned about post counts, as far as trying to get there artificially. I'm just kind of a chatty cathy naturally. :D

Old Hack
06-11-2012, 10:02 AM
Don't worry, Cassie, I didn't think you were setting off on a fifty-post dash; it was more of a warning, really, which you probably didn't need.

Chatty is good, by the way. I'm all for chatty. And welcome to AW.

JoyceH
06-11-2012, 11:04 AM
the piece has been up a grand total of two days and isn't even finished being processed through Smashword's system yet - it will probably not hit the Premium Catalog for another few days.



Just FYI, going from Smashwords publication to acceptance in the Premium Catalog takes longer than a few days - a few weeks if you're lucky. And then there's a further lag before it shows up at the affiliates. I published my latest on May 30, and it's still not accepted for premium. And I know from my previous publication that it takes some more days after that before the affiliates post it.

Just scrolled back through my blog and see that my first book, which was published on January 6, went up on Barnes and Noble on January 24. I saw some comments after that saying that publication to premium acceptance was taking four to six weeks, but since then, Smashwords has hired some more people so it's going faster, at least so they say.

J. Tanner
06-11-2012, 12:21 PM
Okay, so, phase 1 of my brilliant plan turns out to take a really, really long time. And I'm not even sure that it's actually going to end in publication any time between now and the next 2 years. (VK told me that it can take as long as 8 years to get a story through the trades - do I seriously, at 40, have that long to wait? Just for the sake of getting my name on a magazine cover maybe? I really don't know about that. I'm still not sure now.)

There are writers who don't start until retirement age. You've got time. (It took me like 3, maybe 4 years to go from newb to pro sale with a cover credit. There was a pile of learning in there, and all the little accomplishments in between and all the hard work made it pretty sweet when I reached that point.) I wouldn't write off submitting to publishers particularly for short fiction.


I cursed and ate all the chocolate I could find in the house and went back on the Word warpath again. Draft 7 is the one that's currently out there in the field. So far, I've had some nice responses when I put up fragments in freebie-places, but of course, given that it's a drop in a huge ocean and a short story, I don't know that it can ever really get any traction. So confrontating that expectation, I decided that really, the point of all this was to get the stories out there before I die. At some point, if I just keep at it, the momentum will come; I had to convince myself of that.

Despite there being a real market for short fiction on ereaders, the real money to this point is in novels. Write short fiction because you love writing short fiction. Expect and be happy with a modest following.


I guess if anything, my experience so far boils down to the following bullet points:

Good list. Note that most of the self-pub success stories also worked really hard and write a lot. It ain't just lightning. Nearly all of them do those two things first, and then get that extra bit of luck that snowballs into financial success.

Welcome aboard. Looking forward to hearing more of your experiences.

Cassiepoe
06-11-2012, 08:54 PM
JI saw some comments after that saying that publication to premium acceptance was taking four to six weeks, but since then, Smashwords has hired some more people so it's going faster, at least so they say.

Oh wow. That's really good to know, thanks! I should see if B&N have their own direct-publish option, if that's the case. I should probably look at the Smashwords internal forums (fora?) too rather than trust their boilerplate.

merrihiatt
06-12-2012, 02:59 AM
B&N does have their own e-publishing arm, PubIt! The only basic difference in formatting is that they require section breaks rather than page breaks.

Cassiepoe
06-12-2012, 06:34 AM
Argh, I just discovered something horrible: there's another SF book with my exact title from 1993, and I had no idea until just now. Titles can't be copyrighted, I know, but argh! I did all that searching ahead of time to try and verify the safety of the title, too. :( I'm gonna change everything to be on the safe side, since it's better in the long run to have a unique title and just not risk it. Aaaargh.

Old Hack
06-12-2012, 08:46 AM
Cassie, there are lots of books with duplicate titles. If your only problem is a book from twenty years ago I'm not sure it's worth changing.

Cassiepoe
06-12-2012, 09:07 AM
Cassie, there are lots of books with duplicate titles. If your only problem is a book from twenty years ago I'm not sure it's worth changing.

Maybe not, but I think I'd rather be on the safe side than sorry. Additionally, The Singularity Project was actually not my first choice of a title; it's one I settled on when I couldn't just use "Singularity" (the name of the city involved.) I dunno. I'd like to stand out just a little beyond those if I can.

Anyway, it's all been rebuilt, re-cover designed and resubmitted, so we'll see if it helps any. At least I will rest easier knowing it won't be so easy to confuse with the works of others in the same genre.

Wesley Kang
06-12-2012, 09:29 AM
Good luck to you Cassie. and thank you for sharing your journey!

Cassiepoe
06-12-2012, 10:08 AM
Good luck to you Cassie. and thank you for sharing your journey!

Thanks! Things are just a bit crazy right now because I'm getting started -- it's still my first week of release, so I'm making all kinds of crazy mistakes and course corrects -- but I expect things should be settling down pretty darn soon and I can concentrate on, y'know, writing the next story. :D

If any of this rambling is helping anybody in any way, I'll be thrilled!

Wesley Kang
06-12-2012, 11:06 AM
It is helping! Thanks :)

JoyceH
06-12-2012, 10:34 PM
I published my latest on May 30, and it's still not accepted for premium.

Updating. Bidding On Death has just been accepted for premium. Now I'll be crouched over Barnes and Noble's website like a cat at a mousehole, waiting to see when it goes up there.

(My first book is available at all the Smashwords affiliates, but Barnes and Noble is the only place it's actually selling much.)

AnneGlynn
06-14-2012, 03:08 AM
Maybe not, but I think I'd rather be on the safe side than sorry. Additionally, The Singularity Project was actually not my first choice of a title; it's one I settled on when I couldn't just use "Singularity" (the name of the city involved.) I dunno. I'd like to stand out just a little beyond those if I can.

Anyway, it's all been rebuilt, re-cover designed and resubmitted, so we'll see if it helps any. At least I will rest easier knowing it won't be so easy to confuse with the works of others in the same genre.

A new title is great if it helps your book stand out a little. Or if it pleases you more, I guess. But if I come up with a title I like, I keep it...unless the latest bestseller is called the same thing.

Go to Amazon and type in "A Murder of Crows" and you'll find multiple books with that striking title. "Deliver Us From Evil" has multiple books with that title. Heck, any popular phrase or popular string of words will bring you to several books by different authors.

That said, type in "Area 69" and you only find...me. But that's not why I used the title.

Cassiepoe
06-14-2012, 05:52 AM
That said, type in "Area 69" and you only find...me. But that's not why I used the title.

Yeah, as I'm just getting started out (and have long-term plans for this series) I think it's worth reworking in hopes of carving out a better search result in Google, etc. I think the thing that really concerned me was the possibility that someone looking for that other book would come across mine - and then be irritated that it wasn't the thing they were looking for. Consumer confusion is baaaad. :(

Cassiepoe
06-15-2012, 07:14 PM
Soooo - first week checkpoint. (long!)

Considering the massive number of obstacles I've put in my own way - the fact that this is a short story, the fact that nobody knows me from Adam, etc - I'd say it's done okay. While I was putting this post together, this great article from Goodreads, Anatomy of Book Discovery (http://www.goodreads.com/blog/show/372-anatomy-of-book-discovery-a-case-study), came out.

Sales Results
Smashwords: 7 sold, 16 downloaded. Total income just under $3.
Amazon: 1 sold (no other idea about stats here, doesn't seem very intuitive, which strikes me as extremely odd; is there a hidden stat counter somewhere?). Total income: $.59
B&N: Present, but only went live yesterday. (I also wasn't notified that it's live; good thing I checked the account!) Total income: $0

Things that worked:
First week free promo at Smashwords did seem to work, at least to get a foot in the door to readers- of my sales, several involved the free coupon. Either I messed up the date, though, or Smashwords nuked my free coupon early, because it ended two days earlier than I expected, on the 13th instead of the 15th. Might have been my bad though; just the other day I misread an ATM receipt as $800 instead of $600. ;D

I think I'll extend the free promotion. One thing I'm going to try this week: to actually make multiple coupons and give out different codes in different locations. That means, one for Twitter, another for FB, another for the official blog, and so on. It's a bit more tracking effort for me, but doing that may give a crude idea of where interest is higher. Right now I'm flying blind.

Things I'm not sure worked:
Twitter. I have an active Twitter for the storyline and am basically updating it about three times a day - a mix of retweets, promotions and replies if anybody actually talks to me. While I think that aggressive promotion on Twitter that first week did push a few curious eyes toward Smashwords, the effect seems to be completely flatlined now. I also haven't had ANY time or energy to invest in promotion in the last 36 hours because I've been working on a commercial writing freelance project. I'll continue with Twitter because it's really easy for me to do since I'm on there 24/7 anyway, but I'm not sure it's actually sending anything anywhere. The coupon test might reveal more data.

I put a freebie sample (just a particularly exciting bit) on Twimagination on Twitter - this netted me a quotable mini-review, but I don't think it spiked anything major.

Messing with the price: I initially started at $1.99 and free coupon; dropped everything to $.99. No discernable effect one way or the other.

Messing with the title: there was a brief spike right after I changed the title, adjusted the blurb, and redid the cover, but it was too small of a spike to know if it's significant; probably not, honestly.

Things that probably won't work until later:
Social media: I spent a fair bit of time this week putting Facebook and Tumblr pages together that probably won't be valuable or helpful until much later in the life-cycle of the product, if at all. However, at least the series is there and has a presence, should someone happen to decide to look for it on those places. I check each of these once a day. For the Tumblr page I actually paid ($9) for the template, to have something just a touch more professional looking and customizable.

Questions:
I have one review now on each site - friends and family, as you'd expect, and the positive response Twimagination gave - but I'm not sure if I should be including them in blurb texts now? It seems kind of cheesy to use them anywhere but as fragments on Twitter.

Where do I go next? I've got a Goodreads page but since the story isn't in Premium Catalog yet, I don't think I can crosslink it there.

In all of this, I haven't had a lot of time to actually write, although I am in the process of planning out the next story. This isn't a problem because my writing process is slow already, but I'm sure it means I'm going to have a long downtime where nothing happens until I get the next one out, I think. I'm okay with that - it's not like the existing stuff is going to go stale - but man, it's hard to get any sort of momentum going.

To anyone who wasn't me, at this point I'd recommend waiting until you have either several stories or at least two full books to put into the stream rather than starting with just a single product.

The summary:
I'm still invisible, but it's okay. It's only first week, I'm absent from half of the potential market, and building a rep is going to take a long time anyway.

merrihiatt
06-16-2012, 02:10 AM
You've made a great start. For Amazon KDP, go to Reports and click on Month-To-Date Unit Sales. You will find a detailed list of your sales there. There's also a drop-down box for UK, DE, etc.

Cassiepoe
06-16-2012, 03:18 AM
You've made a great start. For Amazon KDP, go to Reports and click on Month-To-Date Unit Sales. You will find a detailed list of your sales there. There's also a drop-down box for UK, DE, etc.

Thanks! Yeah, I found that, but I was wondering if there was any sort of visitor stats on top of it. It doesn't look like it, though.

merrihiatt
06-16-2012, 02:51 PM
Nope, no visitor stats or page hits.

Cassiepoe
06-23-2012, 07:13 PM
Quickie update. Hit the Premium Catalog on Smashwords.
No effect on sales, but has added some numbers to the sample download count: 8 sold, 37 downloaded.
Had another sale at Amazon which Amazon didn't tell me about.

Wasn't able to do any promotion this week, so everything has flatlined. Lesson: you really need to do at least 3 times a day, every day at the peaks, and I just haven't had time. (Or energy; a disaster fell on my best friend and we're still picking through the pieces.)

For the future, contemplating a pen name change (to downgrade the 'ick, a girl!' effect) and some other things. May rework the cover again. But I'm not going into any more promotion for a bit until some writing can actually happen; I need more content urgently first.

Brian Rush
06-23-2012, 11:08 PM
I've seen some unreported sales at Amazon, too; these showed up in the royalty report but not in the sales report. Weird. There's some lag time in reporting on the premium catalog at Smashwords, and when it does come in all you'll see on the dashboard is a mysterious increase in your royalties without explanation, except that's the only place it can be coming from. You could be selling at the premium outlets and not know about it for a while.

I'd like to share a bit of advice that I am now trying to put into practice, which makes sense to me. In your platform-building, don't spend all of your time and effort promoting your books. Spend most of it promoting other things (other books, movies, whatever) or just sharing ideas. The formula I've seen recommended is 80% promote other/20% promote yourself. That gives people more reason to check out what you're saying, so everything they see on your blog/Tweets/whatever isn't an ad for your books. It makes sense to me and seems to be something I may have been doing wrong.

EDIT: Unless what you're publishing is pure macho-guy stuff, I doubt there's an "ick, a girl" effect, to be honest. I might do a female pen name if I were writing romance, otherwise I don't see a reason to and the same should work in reverse unless you're writing something whose primary audience is adolescent boys.

Cassiepoe
07-17-2012, 11:47 PM
This is good stuff, Brian: thanks a lot! I just don't think it's going, though. I knew this was going to be a toughie, so I'm not terribly surprised that it's flatlined.

The twitter thing is a tricky beast. I noticed a direct correlation once I stopped flogging the thing (because I haven't had time, thanks to new 12-hour-a-day job which is paying the bills but killing my brain) - as soon as I stopped regularly (heavily) talking about it on twitter, action flatlined all across the board and went dead once I couldn't keep up. The promotion aspect of self-pubbing is definitely an 8 hour a day thing. I'm trying to get back on the horse, now, but it's definitely had an impact. I do think about what regular followers might want to see on the account though, and yeah, a ton of ads isn't it. I don't think I agree with 80% though - then you're putting YOUR promotion time into the stuff of other people. I'm using Twitter now mostly for status updates (so that followers know the work isn't dead) and the occasional ad (once or twice a week, if I can remember).


I've seen some unreported sales at Amazon, too; these showed up in the royalty report but not in the sales report. Weird. There's some lag time in reporting on the premium catalog at Smashwords, and when it does come in all you'll see on the dashboard is a mysterious increase in your royalties without explanation, except that's the only place it can be coming from. You could be selling at the premium outlets and not know about it for a while.

I'd like to share a bit of advice that I am now trying to put into practice, which makes sense to me. In your platform-building, don't spend all of your time and effort promoting your books. Spend most of it promoting other things (other books, movies, whatever) or just sharing ideas. The formula I've seen recommended is 80% promote other/20% promote yourself. That gives people more reason to check out what you're saying, so everything they see on your blog/Tweets/whatever isn't an ad for your books. It makes sense to me and seems to be something I may have been doing wrong.

EDIT: Unless what you're publishing is pure macho-guy stuff, I doubt there's an "ick, a girl" effect, to be honest. I might do a female pen name if I were writing romance, otherwise I don't see a reason to and the same should work in reverse unless you're writing something whose primary audience is adolescent boys.