This post is cross-posted from the new blog. I hate to be a pain but I’m trying to keep comments in one place, which is why you can only comment there.
It’s Saturday and that means a guest post! Today it’s an old friend of mine Indie Author Stacey Cochran.
I’ve been reading Stacey’s work since 2005 or thereabouts and the fact that Claws 2 is Kindle only is the only reason I’ve finally downloaded Kindle for PC. Which probably tells you something.
I’ll be reviewing Claws 2 sometime in the next couple of weeks, and I’ll also upload the reviews I’ve done of his previous works to the new blog.
Today Stacey is going to talk about his experiences as a self-publisher, what he’s learnt from it and why he’s committed to ebooks.
And now over to Stacey.
Hi, Becky, thanks so much for having me at your place today. As you know, I am on a two-month Blog Tour campaign to spread the word about my new thriller CLAWS 2. I think it is safe to say that you were one of the first readers to “discover” me way back in like 2005, and so my blog post here today holds a special place in my heart.
I thought it might be helpful to reflect on some of what I’ve learned regarding how to DIY market self-pubbed novels. What has worked and what hasn’t worked, and where can newbies get started… that sort’a thing.
I self-published my first novel in 2004 as a print-on-demand trade paperback. I had no idea whatsoever how to market the novel, and I may have even believed that just having a novel published would mean that people would start to buy it and it would become a hit. I think I’ve sold about two dozen copies of that first novel to date.
Lesson #1: Just having a novel published does not mean people will buy it. Somehow, you’ve got to spread the word and make people aware of your book.
So some of my earliest efforts at marketing were as simple as e-mailing people I knew and asking them to buy the book. I exhausted this well of people after about two days, and then rather painfully began asking total strangers to buy my novel. I mostly did this by reading Amazon reviews and then contacting the reviewers to ask them if they’d consider buying my book and writing a review, which leads me to Lesson #2.
Lesson #2: Do not directly contact total strangers and ask them to buy your book. This is the marketing equivalent of throwing paint at someone’s house in order to sell them on your paint brand. They won’t like it, and they’re very likely going to get online and spread the word about what a jerk you are for direct-selling to them.
That said, you’ve got to start somewhere, and no one’s first steps are going to easy or painless. In my case, after I got burned by direct-marketing to total strangers like this, I started trolling writer discussion boards like NaNoWriMo. I would often talk up my books to fellow writers, and while this did not meet with as painful a result as my earlier efforts, it was far from smooth. I managed to sell a few dozen copies of my short story collection The Kiribati Test using this method, but mostly I irritated a lot of people. This would’ve been around late 2004, early 2005.
Lesson #3: Don’t let the fear of people not liking you or even attacking you, prevent you from trying to sell your book and your brand.
By summer 2005, I had learned that direct marketing online was painful at best and could backfire at worst, and so when I released my novel Amber Page and the Legend of the Coral Stone in October of ’05, I began trying to use my imagination to market and sell the book. I visited area bookstores and tried to set up author signings. I visited area libraries, coffee shops. I printed up flyers and posted them all around town. I asked at the library if I could stand on the sidewalk out front and hand out flyers to patrons coming in. I drove to other towns and walked the streets with hundreds of flyers literally handing them out to passersby and anyone who didn’t look threatening. I managed to land my first two or three bookstore events working like this. I did a coffee shop gig that sold a few dozen books. A library gig that sold a few. I tried to get libraries to buy the book for their shelves.
Anything and everything. But mostly it was done in real-time, real-world locations (i.e., not online). On the internet, I used my website to do free T-shirt giveaways, fridge magnets, signed copies of the book. I started making videos and posting them online (literally before YouTube was available to the public). And then when YouTube became available in early 2006, I started using my channel to market and promote my books and brand.
I started attending writers’ conferences and tried getting on the programs so that I could speak to audiences.
All of this amounted to a couple hundred copies of Amber Page being sold.
Despite all this hard work, the price of the book was too high. The base cost of print-on-demand books was cost-prohibitive, and many readers wouldn’t take a chance on an unknown writer.
Still I was beginning to gain confidence. I was raising eyebrows, and I was selling books.
Lesson #4: Persistence is everything in this business. If something doesn’t work, revise it and make it work better the next time around. But keep trying. Year after year.
In 2006, I moved from Arizona back to my home state of North Carolina. I had learned some valuable lessons out West and good, bad, or indifferent, I had learned how to publish my own novels.
Once back in North Carolina, things started to take off. I visited area bookstores and libraries and joined writers’ groups. I helped organize the Raleigh Write to Publish Group, which has subsequently grown to include Charlotte, Wilmington, and Washington DC Write to Publish Groups. I was offered contract work with Lulu, which sent me on my first national book tour to Borders Bookstores in Michigan, Arizona, and California.
In summer 2007, I launched The Colorado Sequence as a print-on-demand trade paperback. Despite being my best novel to that point, it was a big book, and the base cost was way too high. Regardless, I had made friends with some key people at Lulu, and they helped to print up hundreds of copies for me as I was spreading the Lulu brand around the country and around the state of North Carolina. I probably sold somewhere in the neighborhood of 300-400 copies of the book, and most of these sales were 100% revenue because Lulu had paid for the printing as I was a contract employee for them.
In addition to bookstore and library events, I teamed with other writers and sat in on booths at street fairs and book festivals. Sometimes I’d sell copies for 5 or 10 dollars. I learned something that should be obvious to everyone. The lower the cost of your book, the more often people will buy it.
Still there was a serious problem that I simply could not see a way to overcome, and Lulu was completely reorganized at the corporate level in 2008. Most of my contacts were forced to resign, and I was back at square one.
The base price of the books was too high to lead to impulse buys.
Lesson #5: In any industry, the price point you set must seem reasonable and fair to consumers. If consumers perceive they’re “getting a deal” then you’ve priced your product well.
So how to overcome the high price of POD books? I struggled with this one for almost two years before I released CLAWS in summer 2009.
With CLAWS, my initial goal was to release a trade paperback and sell at least 200 copies. By poring over the booking phase of the project and searching exhaustively online and at writers’ conferences around the country, I managed to arrive at a base cost of about four bucks for the book (U.S.).
I think it’s safe to say that this was a Priority #1 Goal with the release of CLAWS. To get the cost down as low as I could.
And then Amazon Kindle came along.
In 2008, Amazon began beta-testing their Digital Text Platform for Kindle by e-mailing established authors and asking them to upload their books. By early 2009, Amazon ended the beta-testing and opened the DTP to anyone who had a book and the technical skill to upload it.
Sometimes stars align in life, and this was exactly the case for me. I priced CLAWS on the Kindle eReading device for 99 cents in mid-May 2009. The book became a bestseller in days.
Then I brought out The Colorado Sequence at 99 cents, and the book shot to #111 overall in the Kindle store (out of 300,000 titles at the time).
For the next six months, I sold a lot of books.
Then, in December with the help of a friend, I listed my short story collection The Kiribati Test in the Kindle store for free. I had 30,000 costumers download my book to their devices in six weeks. Suddenly, I started getting e-mails from movie studios and had literary agents contacting me. It was a wild ride.
Which brings us to summer 2010 and the release of CLAWS 2. For the past year, I’ve been hosting an online interview show Book Chatter using ustream.tv. I’ve mostly concentrated on Kindle authors and bloggers, and so have made some important friends in this community. With their help, I launched a Blog Tour to market and promote the novel.
With CLAWS 2, I actually increased the price to $2.99… the first time in six years I’ve moved in that direction with pricing. As a result I’ve started earning a 70% royalty rate on each sale, and in the past week combined sales of CLAWS 2 and CLAWS have been good. It’s too early for me to assess its overall performance, but it seems to be working well. And most importantly, I’m having fun.
If you can get to a point as an author where customers are happy, you’re happy, and you’re selling books entirely on your own initiative, then you are in a good place.
If anything, I guess my story is the story of perseverance, of learning from your mistakes, of wanting to grow and get better, and of never giving up.
Thanks, Becky, for having me at your place today, and thank you for all your support, your reviews, and encouragement over the years. If you weren’t the very first, you were certainly one of the first half dozen or so folks to acknowledge my work.
Stacey Cochran was born in the Carolinas, where his family traces its roots to the mid 1800s. In 1998 he was selected as a finalist in the Dell Magazines undergraduate fiction competition, and he made his first professional short story sale to CutBank in 2001. In 2004, he was selected as a finalist in the St. Martin’s Press/PWA Best First Private Eye Novel Contest. He lives in Raleigh, North Carolina with his wife Dr. Susan K. Miller-Cochran and their son Sam, and he teaches writing at North Carolina State University. His books include CLAWS, CLAWS 2, The Colorado Sequence, Amber Page, and The Kiribati Test.