It seems a little late for this, seeing as we’re just starting the fourth month of 2017, but after reading back through my 2015 year in review, I was so surprised by how much things had changed just in the space of 2016 that I thought it was worth writing this – even if just as a record for the future.
As before, I will divide 2016 into three categories:
- What went well
- What didn’t go well
- The plan for 2017
Just as an interesting note to start out with, here’s a mini-recap from 2015. That was the year when I started my foray into self-publishing, after finally deciding that I was ready to take my career into my own hands.
I published The Natural Order in May, setting an arbitrary launch date just to force myself to get moving, and then scrambled to prepare everything in time. I designed my own cover, printed a bunch of paperback copies (completely not worth it!), and hoped for the best.
My book sales in 2015 were abysmal. I made around $900, which may sound decent but was mostly through paperback sales, which didn’t even close to recoup the costs of getting them all printed and shipped to New Zealand. However, I did get a chance to take a mini-break from work while WWOOFing in Greymouth, and that was when I finally started to get a grasp on what I needed to do to succeed.
I published three books in 2015 – The Natural Order, one nonfiction title (because I happened to be taking a course on publishing that focused on nonfiction), and a short prequel to The Natural Order.
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I published three books in 2016 as well, but that’s about where the similarities end. Though the year got off to a difficult start, that was when the magic really started happening.
What went well
#1: Kindle Scout
I was trialing a full-time writing career at the beginning of 2016, and as I was desperately trying to figure out how to make enough money for this to be viable, I stumbled across the Kindle Scout program.
(I’ve written more about my experience with Kindle Scout here and here, in case you’re curious.)
I had a previous novel – Beauty’s Songbook – which was almost, almost picked up by an agent several years back, so I knew it was good. But as a standalone, I didn’t know how to market it.
So I decided to enter it into the Kindle Scout program, where readers have a chance to vote in a month-long campaign for whether it should be published (though the editors have the final word).
After a lackluster attempt to get my friends to vote for the book, I promptly forgot all about it. I didn’t have many useful contacts to call upon, so I assumed it was a doomed mission from the outset.
Well, a couple days before the end of the month, I happened to stumble across the Kindle Scout page again, where I remembered my book’s campaign. It turns out that a last-minute spike in visibility (due to priority placement on the website for campaigns about to finish) had propelled it into the “Hot and Trending” list, which meant the editors would give it a look.
To my absolute amazement, it was selected for publication! I got an advance of $1,500, plus promotion through Amazon. That was a great moment of success, and other authors have leveraged their Kindle Scout win to gain publishing contracts with print houses.
Of course, I’ve now reached the point where my Natural Order series is consistently out-selling Beauty’s Songbook, but a couple weeks ago I learned that I would be paid $1,000 from Kindle Scout for my book’s placement in an Amazon Prime campaign. So it’s definitely full of unexpected benefits!
#2: Building up my author newsletter
After a few failed attempts at promoting my books, I knew that focusing on my author newsletter was the most useful path forward. There’s nothing quite as special as receiving emails from my readers, and as a Young Adult author, most of the major promotion sources didn’t work well for me in the first place.
I gradually started added subscribers from a sign-up in the back of my free prequel, which I continued tweaking and improving until it was appealing to my readers.
But I didn’t start seeing real results until I started teaming up with other authors to run giveaways of paperback books. The people who entered those were excited about my genre, and most were avid readers as well, so it’s been like hitting the jackpot.
A couple giveaways with Ripley’s Booklist were by far the most successful, and my email list jumped from around 350 to over 3,000 subscribers in the space of two months.
I’m still figuring out what to write in my emails, so I’m not an expert yet, but it makes a big difference having the support of so many wonderful readers behind me.
#3: Figuring out how to launch a book properly (at last!)
I launched three books in 2016, and each one was a learning process.
Beauty’s Songbook was pretty much completely out of my hands, because Kindle Scout had control over the pricing, which meant I couldn’t do any 99-cent promotions for launch day. It was interesting to see how little I could do to support my own book without being able to discount it.
Rogue Magic – the second book in the Natural Order series – was the next release, and it was a bit of a flop. I didn’t really know how to promote the release of the second book in the series, especially since it was decidedly not a standalone, so instead I promoted The Natural Order like crazy and hoped there would be flow-on sales. I got a few, but not many, and it took months for the number of reviews to creep up to 10.
Book 3 (Lost Magic) was the last launch of 2016. I planned that launch out far in advance, using all of my hard-earned knowledge of how these things ought to work, and even wrote myself a day-by-day calendar for the 50-ish days leading up to the launch.
This time I made sure the paperback was ready to come out at the same time as the ebook, and I spent a while getting my newsletter readers excited about the book. I also invited more people than before to join my launch team, so I had a great group of people behind me when the book finally went live.
First I told my newsletter readers about the book, and then I steadily built up to larger and larger promotions for the next three days.
In the end, I achieved my goal of landing Lost Magic in Amazon’s “Hot New Releases” category, which meant I got an extra boost of promotion for the next month. It definitely paid off!
(Oh, and if you’re wondering about how I got around the idea of promoting the third book in the series by itself, I included a link to a free download of The Natural Order for anyone who bought Lost Magic. Plus, I received feedback that it worked very well as a standalone as well.)
#4: Trialing a full-time writing career
For the first three months of 2016, I was writing full-time just to see how it would work out. I had my doubts, going into the experience, but I discovered that I was incredibly productive for about four hours every morning.
I had my own office, and it just so happened that the internet didn’t reach the office, which was definitely a factor in my success!
My husband and I decided to start saving more seriously for a house somewhere along the way, so I had to get a job again, but it was a good learning experience. I now know that I would be perfectly happy writing full-time, but that I need a dedicated space to do it in.
What didn’t go well
#1: Lots of wasted money on promotions
Near the end of 2015, I had bought into the idea that getting an orange “#1 Bestseller” banner for one of my books would really give it the lasting visibility I needed to finally drive continuous sales. So in early 2016 I poured about $200 into a promotion for my nonfiction book – and only saw the tiniest boost as a result.
It was discouraging.
Another failure was the aforementioned attempt to launch the second book in the Natural Order series by promoting The Natural Order and hoping I would see a flow-on effect.
I was filling out my taxes recently, and I was surprised to find how many short bursts of promotions I did throughout the year – mostly to no avail.
From now on, I’m saving promotional efforts for book launches and BookBub. Everything else is just a waste of time.
#2: Audiobook earnings
One of the tips I’d heard from other authors was that audiobooks are a fantastic “lead magnet” (a freebie given in exchange for newsletter signups). So I decided to get an audiobook created for The Natural Order.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I LOVE the audiobook. The narrator is absolutely fantastic.
But it turns out people aren’t really interested in receiving a free audiobook; they’d rather just read the next book in the series in the usual ebook format. And I’ve only sold 24 copies, so it’s a long way from paying itself off.
#3: Figuring out how to fit writing around full-time work
I knew it was inevitable, but it was still discouraging: as soon as I started working full-time again, I let my writing work slide.
After working as a chef for a number of years, I was fed up with kitchen work and all the drama that entailed, so I went in a completely different direction. I’m now working at a wonderful travel agency, with all the awesome travel perks you might imagine, and it’s a great environment.
Unfortunately, it also involves working on a computer all day long, so it’s very hard to summon up the motivation to return to the computer after a long day in the office.
In addition, this is the first time I’ve worked a 9-to-5 job (my previous jobs have always been morning shifts), so the days feel a lot shorter than before.
I tried my best to keep up my writing habits, but I also got completely burned out during NaNoWriMo.
2017 is my chance to turn this around.
#3: Launching a book in December
I am NEVER doing this again!
The launch went very well (despite what many would say about increased competition in the holiday season), but the level of stress was unbelievable.
My launch date for Lost Magic was December 5th (so I would avoid the Christmas madness), and I barely made it. This was what the five weeks leading up to launch date looked like:
- Writing a novel for NaNoWriMo (because I’ve never skipped it once!)
- Revising Lost Magic
- Revising Lost Magic again
- Formatting the paperback
- Formatting the ebook
- Emailing my newsletter readers about book launch updates
- Submitting the book to promotion sites in time for the launch
- Replying to countless emails from my readers
And that was on top of working overtime for the holiday season (we also had the logistical nightmare of sorting out our clients’ itineraries following the Kaikoura earthquake here in New Zealand) and getting sick for a week.
My two book launches this year are planned for late June and late October! I won’t ever touch November or December again.
The plan for 2017
I can cheat a bit here, because I’ve already had a few great successes in 2017! So here is what has already happened..and what’s still to come.
#1: Get a BookBub promotion
BookBub is the king of the book promotion world. I even wrote a post about it last year, in hopes that it would give me some sort of insight, but it remained elusive.
Then, just in February, I finally managed to secure my first BookBub promotion for The Natural Order!
Since it was an international-only promotion (Canada, the UK, Australia, India, and Japan, I believe), and since YA is a small category, they only estimated that I would sell around 150 books.
Well, I ended up selling nearly 500 books (some were later books in the series), and I finished February with a little over $500 in book sales. For me, that’s huge! And this is one of those promotions where the flow-on effect really does happen, so I was still selling quite a few books in the UK and Australia all the way through the beginning of March.
I’m hoping to get a couple more BookBub promotions before this year is up (boxed sets are more likely to be selected, apparently), and it would be exciting to see how many copies would sell for a US promotion.
#2: Write for 30 minutes before work every morning
I’m not usually one for New Year’s resolutions (I like making New Year’s goals, which I can check off my list once I’ve achieved them!), but I knew I needed to make more time for my writing.
After finally recovering from the madness that was my December book launch, I decided I would wake up 30 minutes earlier each morning and fit in a short writing session before work.
To my amazement, I have actually followed through so far (three months and counting), and it’s done wonders for my productivity. It’s far easier to chip away at something little by little, day by day, than to let it linger and then do a marathon session of work every two weeks when you start feeling so guilty you can’t put it off any longer.
Besides, my stories are always swimming around in my mind these days, which means it’s much easier to get back into the flow of things each morning.
#3: Redesign my website
This is another one I’ve already accomplished. With my first adult fantasy book coming out in October, I decided that I needed a new look for my author website, which started the year with a very YA feel to it.
After a hard week of work, it’s finally done, and the remaining elements are coming together little by little.
This is part of my general trend of trying to make sure everything I put out into the world is at a very high standard. As my career becomes more and more serious, I need to ensure that everything I release is on par with traditionally published authors.
At first, it was a case of “good enough.” My early covers were good enough, and my first website was good enough. Now I won’t settle for anything that’s not the best it can possibly be.
#4: Launch The Final Order (the last book in the Natural Order series) and create a boxed set for the series
The end of the Natural Order series is the end of an era for me. I started writing these books 10 years ago, and the characters feel like old friends.
But it was always my plan to use the Natural Order series as my foray into the world of publishing, and then graduate on to epic fantasy (hopefully taking some of my readers along with me).
When The Final Order comes out, I will have a completed series at last, something that I can use to create a cohesive reader’s journey. The boxed set will be part of that, and hopefully I’ll be able to promote that more easily than I could the individual titles.
But this is all speculation, because I’ve never tried selling a boxed set before!
#5: Launch The Fall of Lostport
Again, this is my big move from the series that started out my writing career to the fantasy world that will encompass most of the future books I write.
It’s a big transition, because I don’t know whether my readers will follow me or not.
However, I do know that adult fantasy is easier than YA fantasy to sell online (most YA readers are still purchasing books at bookstores), so it will be interesting to see if my marketing efforts are more successful.
Whatever the result, these are exciting times!
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What are your goals for the year? Let me know in the comments what you thought of 2016…and what you have in store for the new year.