Friday, December 16, 2011

Self-Publishing – what works, what doesn't

First off, I have to share some super exciting news… my latest self-published book FEARLESS IN HIGH HEELS hit #2 on the Barnes & Noble Bestseller list!  I'm absolutely thrilled, as this is the greatest “bestseller” achievement I’ve ever had.  You can bet that High Heels book #7 is totally in the works for next year now!
(P.S.  The book will be available on December 26th in all other outlets, including Kindle and print versions!  Be sure to sign up for my newsletter on my website as I'll be sending special offers to subscribers soon!)
Okay, now on to the real blog post…
For the last few posts I’ve been talking about self-publishing and what sort of numbers I’ve seen from this.  So, today I want to talk about what I’ve done that’s worked (or not worked) to get those sales numbers!

1.     The number one thing that I believe has helped my sales grow has been having a backlist of books.  As I mentioned in my last post, when I had only a couple of short works available for sale, my sales were moderate – enough that I was interested in doing more – but they didn’t really explode until I had a backlist of several books available.  I know this probably sounds a little discouraging to authors who only have one book ready to self-publish, but my advice in that situation is that you NOT spend a lot of time on promo.  Instead, take all that time and put it into writing the next book.  I guarantee it will go further toward getting you more sales.
But even if you only have one book out…
2.    Make it look professional!  I cannot stress enough how important hiring a proofread or editor is.  Readers will not be more forgiving of self-published books having typos than they will of publisher produced ones.  I’ve gotten an email from a reader before who claimed my book was “riddled with typos”.  When I politely asked her if she could point them out, she pointed out… two.  Two typos in the whole book.   Which to me doesn’t sound too bad.  But to a reader, that is a big deal!  Even one is a big deal and says “amateur” to a reader.  So make sure that you have someone to watch your back in this area, and make sure that they are good at what they do.  Ask around for recommendations, and I would always ask a proofer to do a few sample pages for you first, so that you can be sure they are actually going to catch everything.
3.    Disclose word count!  If you’re writing a full length novel, and it is comparable to a print length (generally 80-100K ), you can get away with not telling reader the word count.  But if you’re writing a novella, novelette, or short story, disclose your word count right in the product description.  There are so many full length books being sold for $.99 now that readers sometimes feel cheated when they pay $.99 and then find out they’ve bought a short story.  Or in other cases some readers have a different idea of what “short” is than the author.  This is one place where bad reviews happen to me all the time – not for story issues, but because the reader wanted a longer piece.  So definitely make sure that you give readers as much info up front about length as possible.  And speaking of reviews…
4.    Good reviews are like gold!  Especially if you are a new author or only have one or two books available, reviews equal sales.  Readers really do read them and really do judge a book by its star rating.  I see sales plummet when my star ratings go down on my books.  This is a tough area for most authors, because bad reviews will happen, no matter how good your book is, and there is nothing you can do about it.  (Though, if you do get inappropriate reviews or spoiler reviews, you can report them and often BN or Amazon will remove them.)  But you can do something about getting more good reviews!  There are tons of bloggers out there that review self-published books now, and even the ones that don’t have large followings on their blogs will often agree to post their review on BN or Amazon when they write it.  I would contact as many of these as possible!  Especially reviewers that are just starting out or maybe don’t have huge followings yet, as they will be most likely to want to a) review you book well (because they want to develop good relationship with authors, right?) and b) have time to review books from newer authors.  One thing I would NOT recommend doing is having all of your family members give you reviews.  It becomes obvious quickly, and that can be a real turn off to readers. 
5.    Price your books right!  Pricing is a really interesting issue.  Some authors swear by the $.99 rule and others are flirting with $6 now.  My experience with this is that I usually get more sales at $.99… but I make a lot more money at $3.99.  My personal take on pricing is that if you start out too low, you have nowhere to go.  I’d err on the side of being too high, as you can always lower your prices and readers won’t mind.  If you start out at $.99 then suddenly decide you want to go to $3.99, readers are going to be a little less happy about that sort of change.  I honestly think for a full length novel, $3.99-$5.99 is an appropriate price range.  This is still lower than most published produced books, which is a nice discount for the reader, but not so low that it a) smells of desperation or b) cuts into your profits.  I do regularly put my books on sale for a limited time at lower price points.  But the purpose of that is to gain some visibility, and I generally end up losing money on those sales vs. what I could have been making at the $3.99 price.   
For example: the first book in my High Heels series, SPYING IN HIGH HEELS, is the book that I put on sale the most, in order to hook readers into the series.  I’ve sold almost 200,000 copies of that book alone.  By contrast, the second book in my series, KILLER IN HIGH HEELS, is one that I almost never put on sale.  It’s almost always priced at $3.99.  I’ve sold roughly 50,000 copies of this book, but this book has made me at least three times as much as book #1 in terms of income.           

Since I won’t be blogging again until after the holiday, Merry Christmas to all the Killers out there!  I hope you all get exactly what you want for Christmas!  (I’ve got my eye on a Kindle Fire, just in case Santa is listening…)

~ Trigger Happy Halliday


Terri Osburn said...

More priceless info. Thanks, Gemma. And happy holidays to you!

Suzan Harden said...

Thanks for the insight, Gemma. It helps those of us starting from stratch on this crazy rollercoaster called publishing.

Mo said...

Great news about the sales on Fearless. I have it on order for my kindle and look forward to the read. And great news about more Maddie stories to come. thanks.