Lessons Learned

Today I want to share some of my experiences in switching from Traditionally published to Indie once I started getting the rights back on my work.

In late 2013 I got the rights back to Watch Me, a 40 K short novel that had been in a Berkley Duet, it was the perfect time to try this new Indie thing. Understanding how important good cover art is I hired somebody to do an amazing cover for me and I priced it at $2.99 – which I think is a very fair price for a story that was half of a novel Berkley charged more than $15 for. I slapped the cover on it, had it professionally formatted, and put it up for sale. Needless to say the release didn’t make a splash.

Early in 2014 I received the rights back to several of my Kensington stories. This time I did think more about marketing and branding so I changed the title of The Crib to Wicked Game and Sex As A Weapon to Too Close and had them both recovered in a similar way because they both had a slight mystery/suspense edge to them. I was super thrilled with the covers and thought that they would do awesome because they stood out. I put the new covers on and put them up for sale.

At the same time I got those two back I also got the rights back to a single author anthology that has entitled Lush. So while I was promoting the two others I went to work on prepping Lush. By this time I’d started talking to other, more successful, Indie authors, and I knew that a series and quick releases were a good way to make a splash. So I decided to release the novellas individually, and then as a collection both digitally and in print. Once again I got great covers, formatted them and released them six weeks after the other two. I priced the first one $.99 and then the others at $2.99 each. I didn’t rerelease the collection or bundle until a month or so later. And once again despite doing some promotions, including Facebook ads, and blog tours, sales were disappointing.

At this point I was getting very discouraged. In my mind, I was doing everything I could and I was making less than $100 a month in sales from 6 novellas combined. After talking to some of the more successful Indie authors out there, I realized that the promoting I was doing wasn’t doing much because my mailing list included people who followed me, as did my social media pages. They likely followed me because they’ve already read my books when they were in their first incarnation, so why would they buy them again? I needed to write something new, to gain new readers.

When I did release my first new Indie work the sales, while better than the less than $100 a month for 6 stories, were still fairly low I went from baffled to depressed to determined. I started to really pay attention to what the successful Indie authors were doing, and you know what I noticed? They were tracking everything they did.

Seriously. Everything.

Coming from a traditional background where the only control I had was what words I put on the page, and a time when authors were encouraged to put their marketing dollars behind ads in magazines like Romantic Times and RWA’s Romance Writers Report, it never occurred to me to track what was working and what wasn’t, because there had never been ways to do that before. But more than just the way we published had changed. The way to reach readers changed, the way readers interacted with authors changed, the information available to us changed….so much had changed that it became clear that if I wanted to be successful at this, I had to accept that despite my experience, I really knew nothing.

It was time to educate myself.

When I looked at what I was doing, how I was doing it, and the sales numbers, and the number of people on my mailing list, I realized that MY readers were buying the new releases- which was awesome – but that was it. I still was not finding new readers.

When I took a deeper look at the promotions I was putting my money into, I saw that they weren’t getting me anywhere. Blog tours where my post was one of three in a day, on a blog with no followers didn’t do anything. So I crossed blog tours off my list, and started building my own list of bloggers who truly care about books, and showcasing authors.

Another thing I crossed off my list was paying for promotional packages that included Facebook parties, take-overs, thunderclap campaigns, and ‘social media blasts’ because I got better results (Proof was in the sales dashboard tracking) when I worked with other authors instead of promoters. Not only were the results better, but the cost of working with other authors was way less than paying someone to do things that I could do myself if I stuck to a well written To-Do list.

Elevator2015 was a bad year for me due to health issues.I only had two releases. However, just because I was unable to write much last year does not mean I wasn’t determined. I spent the year watching, learning, and experimenting with promoting backlist titles (Those re-releases I talked about above).

Things I studied were the Pro’s and Con’s of selling direct to vendor versus an aggregate like Smashwords or D2D. The importance of back matter. The importance of series branding, and branding to the right genre/audience. The importance of a marketing plan. I experimented with pro’s and con’s of Pre-orders with the new release, and Facebook Ads, and learned that they’re not right for everyone.

I’m still not where I want to be, but looking back at what I’ve done, it’s important to remember that even if they didn’t work for me, I was moving forward. Not everything will work for everyone, and we each need to find our way. Looking at what didn’t work, has helped me build a plan for my next releases, and having a plan makes me feel like my goals are within reach.

So, to recap.

What I did in the past:
-New covers I loved (that cost a lot)
-Spent money on ‘old’ promotional tactics
-Promoted to my own readers, but didn’t strive to find new ones.
-Low pricing on books.
-Thought putting money into marketing would pay off without really thinking about WHERE the best place to put those marketing dollars was. All promotion is not equal.
-Rushed out new stuff without a marketing plan. (Because I didn’t know how much had changed, or HOW to create a marketing plan)

What I learned:
-Don’t go into this without understanding just how much work it is. It’s more than writing. You can hear that, and think you know it, but you don’t get it until you’re in it.
-Just because you love the cover art, and it suits the story, does not mean it will help sell the story. Look at what is selling, and getting attention, not just what you like.
– Don’t rush. Just getting things out isn’t enough. You need a plan.
– Not everything works for everyone. Trial and error is your friend.
Don’t forget your backlist. Just because you don’t have somethign new t promote does not mean you do not promote anything.
-Don’t pay others to do what you can do WELL yourself. (why pay someone to run a FB party or Thunderclap campaign for you, when you can do those easily yourself, or with other authors who will also bring readers to the table?)
-Some authors have a team, so they can concentrate on the writing. If/when you do this, build a team you can trust, and who are good at what they do. Until then, suck it up, and bust your ass.

I can now say I make more than $100 a month, but only on new release months do I make more than $500. Which, considering I only had two releases last year, isn’t totally horrible, I think. I’m still nowhere near where I want to be, but when I look back at the things I’ve learned, and at my plans for the future, I feel confident I can get there if I just keep learning, growing, and working.

The most important lesson I learned; Other authors are my best resource. One of the biggest changes I’ve noticed in the difference between being trad published and Indie is the way authors interact with each other. Before, it was all about the writing. About plotting, critiquing, GMC, and so on. Now, it’s more about the business of being a writer. Authors are sharing what works, and what doesn’t with the knowledge that what works for one might not work for another. Everything is trial an error until we find our niche, and we all have a niche-a sweet spot.

Sharing our knowledge, and our readerships with each other helps us all. The great thing is with being Indie, especially with the digital phenomenon, is that there is an endless amount of space and readers for us all. We are all struggling with our own goals, whether it’s to reach a certain point, or maintain one, the struggle is always there, and likely always will be. It’s created a community of less backbiting and more backscratching because we all get how hard this is, and that if we’re sticking with something this hard it’s because we love what we do. That love binds us together so we are not alone in our trudge up the stairs, even if we sometimes feel that way.

Sasha White

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Sasha White

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