If 2016 was the year when my writing career really began, then 2017 was the year I leveled up.
I brought the Natural Order series to an end in July, secured two BookBub promotions that rocketed the series onto the bestseller charts, and published the first epic fantasy in the world that will be the basis of the rest of my career.
As before, I will divide 2017 into three categories:
- What went well
- What didn’t go well
- The plan for 2018
What went well
#1: BookBub promotions
I have heard talk about BookBub, the holy grail of promotion services, losing its touch in recent years. However, it has been a career-changer for me.
The first international-only BookBub I secured in February 2017 was just a taste of what was to come. When I was finally chosen for a worldwide BookBub for The Natural Order in August, I sold around 2,000 books in just two days, hit #96 in the entire Kindle store (and #1 in all three categories the book is in), and experienced very strong sales for the next two months.
As a YA author, I’ve been told many times that BookBub doesn’t work as well for that category, which has meant the promotion prices are much less expensive than for most other genres. I must have gotten lucky.
#2: Finishing the Natural Order series
It’s amazing the impact a series has on visibility and overall sales. Partly because of the BookBub promotions putting The Natural Order onto the also-bought lists of a few very successful books, and partly because of sell-through, I have been consistently selling far more books than ever before ever since the last book in the series was launched.
The series has great sell-through as well, so I know I’ll shift many copies of the later books for each copy of The Natural Order sold. Unlike some series, which have diminishing reads on later books, I get about a 50% read-through onto the second book and a 100% read-through from there. That’s partly due to a cliffhanger ending of the second book – thankfully no one has complained about it, because I guess they already feel invested by that point!
This means that I can charge more for the later books, knowing that people will pay for them regardless.
#3: AMS advertising
After limited success with discounted book promotions (I learned my lesson after wasting tons of money in 2016!), I started trying out AMS ads, which advertise full-price books underneath similar titles.
With the excellent read-through of the Natural Order series, this has turned out to be a great way to keep sales steady even without new releases or discounts to drive visibility.
Another unexpected perk is the flood of paperback sales I’m suddenly getting! One or two paperbacks a month was what I had previously gotten, but I’m often selling two paperbacks a day now. December was a record-breaking month, at 63 paperback books sold! (And I’ve already surpassed that record now, near the end of January 2018.)
I do think the YA community is still reading a disproportionate number of paperback books, so it’s good to see the paperback-reading community discovering the series at last.
#4: Making a regular habit of writing
For the first half of 2017, I was committed to writing 30 minutes every single morning. I completed an extensive re-write of The Final Order in record time because of it, and felt as though I was able to focus on my writing career despite working full-time.
Unfortunately, I got a bit derailed later in the year, when overtime work became so exhausting I felt completely burned out, so hopefully I can revert to that level of productivity in 2018.
#4: Doubling my writing income
This has been my goal since I first started publishing – to double my writing income each year. I know it won’t be as possible once I start earning a substantial income, but for now, I feel as though I learn enough each year to move to the next level. It helps having more books out, as well.
The funny thing is, I was quite nervous about the idea of earning twice my 2016 income, because more than half of that had been from my Beauty’s Songbook advance from Kindle Scout.
Instead, with the help of the two BookBub ads, I more than doubled my 2016 income.
The best part is that I didn’t spend as much to make that amount. My only spending this past year was on cover design, map design (for The Fall of Lostport), sending paperback copies to my readers, another newsletter-growing promotion, and those BookBub ads.
Most of those I see as long-term investments, because I’ll always have that cover and map – they will benefit me for years to come.
What didn’t go well
#1: The Fall of Lostport launch
I didn’t really know what to do with the launch of The Fall of Lostport, because it’s a standalone book in a new world that has no relation to my former works. I therefore decided not to put any money into promoting it, and instead rely on my email list to get a few sales out the gate.
I also launched it at $2.99, because I was curious to see what would happen.
This was a book I had poured a lot into. It’s my favorite of all the books I have written, and I had an amazing cover and an incredible map of the world designed.
Unfortunately, I didn’t make it high enough onto the Hot New Releases list to get any advertising from Amazon, so once launch week was over, I got no sales whatsoever for the next two months. I’m gradually starting to get a few sales now with the help of AMS ads, but it’s hard because readers have nowhere to go once the finish the book.
Worse still, I put the book into NetGalley as a way to get more reviews, and unfortunately that led to some mostly positive but very low-starred reviews that brought its average down significantly on Amazon. This will probably not bode well for the book’s success in the future.
#2: Keeping on top of my email lists
I’ve gotten extremely lazy with my email subscribers, which is a shame because I had some very engaged readers who have probably forgotten who I am by now. I just don’t have enough time with work taking up so much of my days – the writing has to come first.
I dream of a day when I can send regular newsletters that my subscribers are excited to receive, but for now that day is a long way off.
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That’s actually all I can think of for negatives. Aside from my lack of time, this has been an extremely successful and exciting year. I feel as though a full-time writing career is nearly within my grasp; I might make it to that level within the next two or three years at this rate. There were lots of complaints about BookBub not delivering results and sales in general slowing in August and September, and I just kept quiet because my Natural Order series was selling fantastically.
The plan for 2018
The year ahead is mainly more of the same, because I know I won’t have time to develop my career much further.
#1: Publish the next two books in my new fantasy world
This will be a push. I’m aiming for Hunter’s Legend to come out in April, and The Marshland Prophecy in October, but epic fantasy takes MUCH longer to write and revise than YA fantasy. The Marshland Prophecy is likely to be just as long as The Fall of Lostport, so I really need to focus on that morning writing habit to get it done in time!
I still don’t quite know what I intend to do with branding and selling the series. I’m hoping people will buy the books together even if they are all standalones, but I may have to make a few boxed sets once more books are out to make this work.
Hopefully I can publish a trilogy in 2019, to see if that sees the same level of success as the Natural Order series!
#2: Keep experimenting with AMS ads
These have already proven to be hugely successful. As they are very hard to track and figure out trends with, the best way to succeed is to keep making more ads, stopping the ones that don’t work well, and adding a higher budget to the successful ones.
My goal is to make 5 new ads per week and monitor the success of ads at least weekly.
#3: Update my Natural Order paperbacks
I haven’t designed my Natural Order series paperbacks with any sort of consistency, so I feel very bad for the people who have ordered the full series and received a mismatched set. I really need to go back and give them a uniform look and internal appearance.
This will take a looooong time to do, and the books (possibly) won’t be on sale for a couple days while the new files are loaded up, so I don’t know exactly when this will happen.
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What are your goals for the year? Let me know in the comments what you thought of 2017…and what you have in store for the new year.