I’m not really a writer though I often joke that “I’m an attorney, and my wife is a novelist, so we both write fiction for a living.” My wife, Brenda Hiatt, self publishes and makes a decent living at it, better than she did when publishing through traditional publishers. She is pretty well known in the industry for her “Show Me the Money” survey of author earnings.
She has sold books in both worlds, starting almost 30 years ago when the traditional publishing route was all there was. She traditionally published over a dozen books, mostly Regency Romance books with publishers like Harlequin, Harper Collins and Avon. When she got her reversion rights back for those books she began self publishing them herself.
Since then she has continued to self publish Regency Romances in her Saint of Seven Dials series but she had the most success with her completely self published young adult science fiction Starstruck series. She earns respectable money, enough to allow me to combine my savings as a lawyer to retire at age 58. Here are some of my thoughts on the self publishing vs. traditional publishing debate.
Sales and Money: When self publishing ebooks you can sell fewer books than with traditional publishers and still make more money because you make much more money per book sold. A typical book she sold in the old days with a traditional publisher for about $4 and she would get about 25 cents of that. Sell a $4 ebook on Amazon and the author gets about $3.
Control: The great thing about self publishing is that you get to control everything. The bad thing about self publishing is that you have to control everything. From the book cover, to the marketing, to your webpage it is all on you. Absolutely nothing is done for you.
Time: Controlling everything takes time, time that takes away from writing. My wife’s biggest resentment is the administrative, formatting, marketing and other busy work that takes her away from the keyboard and writing. Finding the balance between these things and more writing is one of the biggest challenges of self publishing.
Marketing: When self publishing marketing is like shaving, if you don’t do it for a day, it’s going to get noticed in your sales. It is a constantly daily grind. Everyday is work to maintain that social media presence, build your subscriber email list, submit the book to online publicity sources (Bookbub being by far the biggest, but there others), maintaining and updating your website and so on. Even a brief pause depresses sales. We know. The cross pressures of consuming time to market what you have vs. writing the next book can drive you crazy.
- Work hard to cross market with other authors in the genre. Combine your marketing power by boosting each others books in your newsletters (see below).
- Your best marketing is a periodic (at least monthly) newsletter to people who ask to get it. Building that list is the most important marketing thing you can do.
- Try to get a Bookbub promotion if you can. If they take you, it will mean thousands of 99 cent sales, or tens of thousands of downloads if you make your book free. Bookbub is very competitive, but keep trying, it is worth it. Getting a Bookbub promotion is so worthwhile Brenda has built entire books around it. With her 5th book in the Starstruck series, The Girl From Mars, releasing next month Brenda wanted a Bookbub for the first book in the series to get readers hooked through the whole series. It would have been her third Bookbub for Starstruck, and they rejected it probably for that reason. So she got innovative. She combined the first two books, Starstruck and Starcrossed into a two book set, added bonus content to that, and offered Bookbub the promotion at 99 cents as a first time in a boxed set offer. Bookbub accepted that, the promotion runs on Monday (May 22d), and I guarantee you will see that boxed set shooting up the Amazon young adult science fiction rankings later that day. We don’t expect to make a lot of money off that 99 cent two book boxed set, but we believe the follow up sales on the remaining books in the series (to include the new book in the series releasing in mid-June) will more than make up for the cost of the promotion.
- If you have a series, consider making the first book in the series free. Put the first chapter for the next book at the end of that book. We could not believe how well this worked when Brenda made the first book of her Starstruck series free. It hurts to make something you spent so much time on free, but it can make money.
- We have little pocket size pamphlets for the Starstruck series. A batch of 1,000 or so can be made for about $50. We hand them out everywhere. I gave out a bunch at a party about a week ago. When we go to a restaurant we give one to the waitress. In her newsletter Brenda has free paperback versions of books to give away in contests. The winner gets the book and a dozen or so of those pamphlets. I’ve given them to the cashier at the grocery checkout line. Do it anytime you can come up with an excuse. Shoot, I sometimes leave a few on the shelf in the grocery store where they sell books . . . trying to figure out a way to leave one here . . .