When writing becomes a form of activism

activism 2

As a fantasy author, I try to stay far away from politics. If you’ve read my books, you can probably guess some of my views, but I don’t like cramming things down anyone’s throat.

However, the recent profusion of hate-mongering aimed at minority groups around the world has crossed the line. It is no longer a political issue; it is a question of human decency.

When Trump was first elected, I had nearly a dozen friends who came out on Facebook the next day–some about their sexuality, others about mental health issues they had never spoken of before. They did this to say that they personally felt victimized by Trump’s rhetoric. They felt as though they had no place in the world Trump had imagined, and now half of the US population had just shown that they either agreed with him or didn’t care who he tore apart on his road to victory.

This, more than anything, shook me to my core.

But I felt helpless against such powerful forces. How could I support my friends, living overseas as I do? What can one person do against a tide?

When I returned to my writing, I was fueled by anger. I was determined to create a world through my writing that did not bow down to Trump’s demands. I blasted “End of All Hope” on my headphones and pounded away at a new scene where I gave one of my gay characters (who had fallen for his best friend and was originally doomed to end up alone) a chance at finding love.

I know it sounds crazy to use fantasy as a real-world influencer. But there have been multiple studies showing that those who read Harry Potter growing up have more accepting views towards minorities. J.K. Rowling may not have done a perfect job with her inclusion of real-world minorities in her fantasy world, but she dug deep into the underlying prejudices that shape society through her portrayal of muggle-borns, half-giants, house-elves, and the divide between muggles and the magically gifted.

Ever since the election, I’ve become painfully aware of the atrocious way minority groups are misrepresented throughout mainstream media, and I want to do my part to change that.

Only by changing our own perception of who is “us” and who is “other” can we truly become a more inclusive, accepting society.

Since most of us don’t have intimate experience with every minority group out there, we often (inadvertently) rely on the media to help us make up our minds what to think about those groups. And that is how hatred is perpetrated. It’s easy for someone ignorant to say “All ____s are ____. We don’t want them here” if they don’t personally know anyone who fits in that category.

By including a more representative cast–whether in a book, a movie, or a TV show–anyone involved in media production can help break down some of those stereotypes.

Of course it’s hard for me, as a white woman, to fully understand the experience of someone without my privilege. But as intimidating as it can be to face the inevitable criticisms that will come for not doing a specific minority group justice, I think it’s worth trying, rather than writing an all-white, all-straight cast of characters just to remove any risk of offending someone. That just perpetrates the problem.

And as authors, it is our job to feel empathy for our characters, to put ourselves in their shoes and try to view the world from inside their heads, not from a judgmental outside perspective. I write from a male perspective all the time, which is as much of a mental challenge as any other form of getting into another’s head. So I draw on the experiences I do have. I may be Caucasian, but most of my friends growing up were Asian-American, and I could see (and hear) first-hand how their heritage shaped their experiences but did not define them. And I may not be affected by the recent travel ban in the US, but I live in New Zealand with my Kiwi husband, and I’m only allowed to live here because of my visa. I can easily imagine how horrifying it would be to suddenly get cut off from the life you have built in a country not your own, the only life you know. I can draw on these experiences to widen the worlds I create, rather than falling back on stereotypes.

White-washing is an easy trap for epic fantasy authors to fall into as well, even though we write in different worlds, because many of us create a medieval-type society centered around a light-skinned European-esque main culture, occasionally complemented by the darker-skinned “others.” Think Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings.

I was guilty of it myself when creating my epic fantasy world. But I haven’t published any books set in that world yet, so I have the chance to re-think my own assumptions and defy stereotypes.

If our leaders insist on moving backwards, we have a responsibility to do the opposite. If more authors and filmmakers can give minorities the richness of character they deserve, I hope the gradual shift in perception will be enough to overwhelm the negative trend currently taking hold.

* * *

What are your thoughts on this? Can writers actually make a difference?

Am I doing the right thing by trying to write an inclusive cast, or do I risk offending people from through lack of experience?

And if you’re a writer yourself, have you struggled with this before?

I love having my beliefs challenged. So if you have a new or controversial perspective to share, please do!

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2016: Year in Review

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:

  1. What went well
  2. What didn’t go well
  3. 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.

* * *

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:

  1. Writing a novel for NaNoWriMo (because I’ve never skipped it once!)
  2. Revising Lost Magic 
  3. Revising Lost Magic again
  4. Formatting the paperback
  5. Formatting the ebook
  6. Emailing my newsletter readers about book launch updates
  7. Submitting the book to promotion sites in time for the launch
  8. 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!

* * *

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.

The secret to getting your first BookBub promotion

If you know much about BookBub (known as the current holy grail of book promotions), you’ve probably realized by now that there IS no secret to success.  Whether you’ve tried a million times without being accepted, or been accepted once only to be denied farther down the line (with more reviews than before), you’re probably cursing the fact that this game-changing promotion service is so fickle and, at times, unattainable.

Well, I decided to look deeper into the successes and failures of BookBub submissions, polling a number of authors on their experiences with gaining a promotion.

Today I’m going to give you a peek into their answers…and pry out a few genuine tips that will greatly increase your chances of success.

First of all, if there is a “secret” to getting your first BookBub promotion, it would have to be this:

PERSISTANCE

One author applied for a promotion 13 times before landing it.  Another tried four times.

So, if you’ve submitted once and been turned down, don’t give up!  Keep submitting your book every month, and you might just get lucky.

 

Here are a few other strategies that have worked (or not!) for other authors 

There are five main details BookBub looks at before accepting your book:

  1. The book’s category (one author landed a promotion for a book with just two reviews in a non-competitive category!)
  2. The cover (some authors are accepted immediately after changing their covers from self-made to professionally designed)
  3. The price (you’re more likely to be accepted for a free promotion than a 99-cent promotion)
  4. The number of reviews (oddly enough, this seems to matter less than I’d assumed!  Some authors are landing promotions with under twenty reviews, while others have been rejected at 200 reviews.  However, there does seem to be a higher acceptance rate once you move above 50 reviews.)
  5. How many books you’re competing against (back to the “persistence” factor–sometimes your category will be saturated, and sometimes it won’t.  If you keep trying, it’s likely that you’ll eventually hit a less competitive window.)

Though BookBub asks you to list any high-profile reviews or endorsements, these don’t seem to play a huge role in whether your book is accepted or rejected.

 

Of course, the best way to maximize your chances is to play by BookBub’s rules.

In other words, your submission must be:

  • Long enough (click here for the specifics for each genre)
  • Discounted by at least 50% (in other words, though they consider permanently free titles, it can’t be permanently 99 cents)
  • Not recently discounted (you won’t be chosen if your book has been cheaper than your discount price in the past 90 days)

One author suggested that having a book only available on Amazon is a mark against you, but while BookBub likes providing multiple purchase platforms to their subscribers, I haven’t seen any other evidence that this is the case.

 

Have you submitted your book to BookBub, with or without success?  I’d love to hear from you!

I’m currently sitting at 32 reviews on my only book long enough to be eligible; I’m hoping I can land my first BookBub promotion in time for the release of the sequel in June.

 

Good luck with all of your publishing and marketing endeavors!

 

Finding Reviews: When You’re Getting Desperate…

As pretty much every author knows nowadays, reviews are essential to your book’s success.  But they’re one of the hardest things to get, apart from newsletter subscribers!  When you find your book stuck at 3 or 4 reviews, it can be hard to build to a more respectable number.

First you want to aim at getting 20-30 reviews, at which point browsers start to take your book a bit more seriously.  At 50 reviews, Amazon may or may not begin promoting your book to other readers.  And at 100 reviews, your book starts carrying some serious weight.

Here are the most effective ways to get reviews, from best to worst: 

  •  Get together a launch team (as many people as possible) who will read your book before publication and leave a review right when it’s released.
    • Pros: This is the best way to get a large number of reviews…and to gain momentum for your book at its release.
    • Cons: You have to know people who are willing to do this for you.  This is where networking with authors comes in handy–join groups on facebook such as Pat’s First Kindle Book and Aspiring Authors, start participating long before your book’s release date, and provide as much helpful input as possible.

 

  • Set up a pre-release notification list, and provide incentives for those who leave reviews.  Basically, this means getting people to sign up to know as soon as the book is available.  These people will download the book at its launch, and will (hopefully) review it afterwards.  If you provide an incentive, such as a free paperback or a free audio copy, to those who leave reviews, the number of reviews will skyrocket.
    • Pros: You’ll get the email addresses for anyone who signs up, so you can send out reminders and nudges to download and leave reviews.  Also, you can add them to your mailing list when the launch is finished.
    • Cons: This could end up costing quite a bit of money, if you have a large number of people on your list.  Also, unless you have a very large and active social network, you won’t get a huge number of people on your list.

 

  • Request review swaps with other authors.  You can check the World Literary Cafe website’s “read and review” forum to find authors who have requested review swaps, or connect with authors on the ARC to ARC facebook page.
    • Pros: Authors are always interested in getting more reviews, so you should should find a number of people interested in participating.
    • Cons: It takes a long time to read and review a lot of books; this should never be your first review-garnering strategy, unless your book’s launch has fallen short.

 

  • Email bloggers to request reviews.  Check out the Indie Review list  for around 200 blogs willing to review self-published books, and read through the guidelines for each one carefully before submitting.
    • Pros: Bloggers can add to your visibility when they post a review on their page, especially if they have plenty of followers.
    • Cons: It takes a LONG time to get through the entire list, and in my personal experience, only three of the 30 bloggers who promised to review The Natural Order actually got around to it.

 

There are other strategies, such as paying for services that put your book in front of readers willing to leave an honest review in exchange for a free book (like NetGalley and Choosy Bookworm), but I haven’t tried these yet.  If you have, I’d love to hear from you!

 

What strategies–successful and otherwise–have you used to get reviews?

Rethinking my Marketing Strategy

It’s been 8 months since I published my first novel, and in that time I’ve tried a huge number of marketing strategies.  I mentioned a few of these in my Year in Review post; basically, I tried selling paperback and ebook copies in every manner I could think of, from contests to giveaways to author talks to free promotions.

Here, I wanted to give some insight into which strategies worked (and I’ll therefore pursue more avidly in the future) and which are not worth doing again.  I would love to hear your comments below on any experiences you’ve had with these, or any other marketing suggestions I may have missed.

And without further ado…

Here’s what I won’t do again:

  • Spend too much on promotion before the full series is done.  The more I’ve read, the more I’ve realized that the real way to make money as a full-time author is to sell series or sets of books, thereby drawing readers through a “funnel” from a free product to an expensive end product.  With series of books, this can mean getting readers to try a free prequel or first book in the series, and afterwards offering the later books paid…eventually persuading readers to buy a boxed set of the series.  Aside from a few smaller promotions, it doesn’t seem worthwhile investing a huge amount in advertising until the full series is finished.

 

  • Make the book free for its release.  When books are newly published on Amazon, they start somewhere in the middle of the rankings, so they have a chance of climbing to the top of their categories and winning that all-important “Amazon Bestseller” button.  When you drop the price to free, you lose your rankings, and you may never regain them.  For my nonfiction title, College Can Wait, I was at #2 in two of my categories before my free promotion.  After that, even with a slew of promotions running, I never made it above #2.  Starting the promotions when I was already at #2 would surely have boosted me to the top.  Furthermore, new releases are in the running for Amazon’s “Hot New Releases” category, but ONLY within the first few days of their publication.  If your free promotion extends past that window, you don’t have a chance at the “Hot New Releases” label.

 

  • Sign up for KDP Select.  Okay, that’s a bit drastic–I will probably sign up for KDP Select for the first 3 months of each book’s release, just to take advantage of the 70% royalties you earn when discounting the book as part of a Kindle Countdown.  But after receiving a large number of downloads within days of posting my free prequel to Smashwords (which posts books to many other sites, including Barnes & Noble and iApple), I want to experiment with other avenues for selling my work.

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  • Print physical copies.  Again, I probably will print a few copies (no more than 50) for my next YA Fantasy book launch party, but I won’t go to the effort of selling hundreds of print copies again.  As satisfying as it is to get your book into bookstores, especially when you manage to sell a few copies, it takes a huge amount of time and effort without generating any longer-term benefit.  Whereas selling copies on ebook stores will increase the ranking and visibility of your title, selling in a bookstore is more of a random event, unconnected to past or future success.

 

  • Submit books to bloggers for review.  When I first released The Natural Order, I spoke of requesting reviews from bloggers as a successful strategy.  But in truth, despite the 20 or 30 bloggers who promised to review the book, only about 4 reviews materialized.  And one of them was by a blogger who confessed in her review that she “never finishes books these days,” and whose average rating sat around 1 or 2 stars.  I spent many, many hours pursuing the hundreds of bloggers open to reviewing indie titles, with hardly any reviews to show for it.  In the future, I’ll ask my newsletter subscribers and friends for a review in exchange for an advance copy.  Bloggers are too much effort.

 

Here’s what I’ll do instead:

  • Write more series and interrelated novels, and set up as many “funnels” as possible.  As I mentioned above, the best way to establish a full-time writing career is to set up multiple funnels that lead readers from a free book through to an expensive item (namely a boxed set of the series).  I am not usually  a series writer, and did not intend to write many others after I finished the Natural Order series.  However, I will now look at writing tie-ins and sets of related books, to create funnels that will draw readers into pursuing more of my work.

 

  • Put books on multiple platforms.  As I mentioned above, I received many downloads (93, at last count) within 2 weeks of posting my free prequel to Smashwords, along with several sales of The Natural Order.  I can’t say what the results will be yet, but it seems silly never to pursue other platforms outside of Amazon.

 

  • Make a free hook for each series or set of books.  Again, just putting the prequel up for free (with no promotions or mentions to my social network) has already generated many downloads and a few sales of The Natural Order; it’s DEFINITELY a strategy I plan to use more in the future.  Within a few hours of the prequel going free on Amazon, I’ve already gotten 24 downloads; that’s a lot more exposure for my books than I could get any other way.

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  • Publish as many high-quality books as possible each year.  The more books you have published, the more chances there are for people to stumble across your work.  I’ve already noticed an upswing in sales since publishing two shorter books (the prequel and a nonfiction title).   Before those two were out, I never sold copies of The Natural Order except during promotions; now, I sell a copy of something every few days.  Of course, the most important part of this all is to gain the interest of your readers, so the quality of my books can’t suffer.  I’ll schedule time for multiple revision drafts for each novel prior to publication, and I won’t rush a title that isn’t ready yet.

 

  • Recruit a large, active mailing list.  This one is HUGE.  Last year I started gathering subscribers without really knowing what I was doing, and I ended up with about 58 subscribers before I’d sent a single newsletter.  By the time I figured it out, I realized I had been smart to gather those emails, though some of the subscribers wouldn’t be interested after such a long time had gone by with no word.  I’m making a goal this year to send a newsletter every other week, on a set schedule, and I’ll include plenty of benefits for my subscribers.  I want anyone who gives me their email to feel like they’ve benefited greatly from it; that way they’ll feel more inclined to step up and help when I need their reviews and downloads.

 

  • Vigorously pursue reviews.  I said above that I wasn’t going to ask bloggers for reviews, but that doesn’t mean I’ll give up on getting more reviews.  I can email my friends and facebook acquaintances for reviews, and I can give my subscribers incentives for reviewing.  I’m aiming to hit 100 reviews on The Natural Order by the end of the year.

 

  • Try out alternative covers.  new coverI just went and got my cover for The Natural Order redesigned, and already I’ve seen better results with a round of promotions following the change.  I liked my original cover, but the new one is immediately eye-catching.  I’ve learned never to settle for something that’s just “good enough.”

 

  • Play around with pre-ordering.  I’ve never done this before, but now that I have a cover designed for the Natural Order sequel (be the first to see it here), I want to see if it’s worthwhile putting the book up for pre-order on Amazon.

 

There it is–my big list of marketing strategies I’ve gathered over the past year.  I would love to hear back from you–what has worked for you?  What hasn’t?  Do you have any advice I should consider?

2015: Year in Review

I’ve been inspired by a recent blog I read to write a “year in review” post.  I’ll divide the year into three categories:

  1. What went well
  2. What didn’t go well
  3. The plan for 2016

This is mostly a tool for my own reflection–it will be fun to look back on this when we reach 2017!

What went well

#1: Book publishing

This is my first year as a published author.  And what a journey it’s been!  After a long, hard think while hiking in Patagonia last February, I decided that I had reached the point in my life when entertaining-yet-stressful restaurant work wasn’t going to cut it.  I had to start properly pursuing my life’s work.

I set the launch date for The Natural Order, my debut YA fantasy novel, on June 1st, and then scrambled to put all the necessary building blocks into place.  These included:

  • A website
  • A blog
  • An author page on Facebook
  • A print run of The Natural Order 
  • A Goodreads author page
  • An Amazon author page
  • …and so on

I would never have started building my platform without a book deadline in place, so this was the perfect excuse to work on it.

I sold a few paperback copies (around 100), got the book into bookstores all over New Zealand…and realized I wasn’t selling a single ebook copy.

Then I started investigating the tangled, murky world of ebook publishing.  It took a long time to figure out what I was doing, and longer still to start making money online, with many false starts along the way.  But, two more ebooks later, I’m finally starting to figure it out.  And it’s been a fantastic experience and a real eye-opener.

And as 2017 dawns, I finally know where I’m heading.  I have a plan, a process, and a goal.  It’s wonderful.

#2: Creating a full-time writing schedule

I always used to worry that I wouldn’t be a very good full-time writer.  I got distracted when writing at home, and had to escape to cafes to get any work done.  I’ve done NaNoWriMo for the past seven or so years, and each year I’ve struggled more to write 50,000 words in a month.

But in August, I moved to a small town called Greymouth for three months, where my partner was studying and I was working two hours a day at the hostel he was being put up in by his school.  I didn’t have a job, and our expenses were extremely low, so I was able to devote almost all of my time to writing.

Hoping to make the most of the experience, I enrolled in a self-publishing course, which gave me direction and spurred me on to meet my goals.  And for the first time, I was able to write thousands of words a day without losing concentration.

I enjoy the writing, the publishing, and the marketing–the whole package.  For the first time, I realized that full-time writing is a lifestyle I aspire to.

#3: Hiking for 2 months straight

In the year of realizing impossible goals, this is one that I’m still amazed we saw through.  In September, my fiance and I realized we had two months between his graduation and our wedding with nothing to do, so we decided to take the plunge and hike the length of New Zealand’s North Island.

We cheated a bit, hitchhiking a few roads to reach Wellington by Christmas, but in all we hiked for 52 days and 1,000 kilometers.

It’s been a long-standing dream of mine to do a through-hike, and this was both a major challenge and a fantastic experience that proved I really could do whatever I set out to accomplish.

#4: Getting engaged and preparing for the wedding

Daniel proposed last February, and our wedding was scheduled for January 2016, so we spent a lot of time organizing the wedding last year.  It was equal parts stressful and fun, but in the end, our wedding was a complete dream.

What didn’t go well

#1: Making a consistent, workable book-marketing plan

I experimented this past year.  A LOT.  I tried everything from book tours to selling at bookstores to ebook promotions to Goodreads giveaways, and a whole lot more.  The unfortunate part is that a majority of my efforts produced nothing in the way of results.  I spent quite a bit of money without seeing any return on investment.

The good part of this is that I was able, after much work, to sort out a few strategies that did work.

Going forward, I’ll ditch the useless strategies and work to make the useful ones more successful than before.

#2: Earning a decent income from my books

In total, I made $900 from book sales last year.  That was mostly generated from paperback sales–in bookstores, at the launch party, and during my book tour.  As far as ebook sales were concerned, they amounted to less than $200.

2016 is already on track to be a better year, financially speaking, but it’s still going to be a long slog.  Even if I do start earning more, it won’t be anywhere close to a proper income for the next year or two.  At this point, I just have to keep working towards my goals and reminding myself that the payoff will come someday.

#3: Saying no to emotionally draining commitments

Part of my motivation to devote myself wholeheartedly to writing and publishing stemmed from the drama and heartache I experienced while working in the restaurant business.

I tried to quit my job as a chef in February, hoping to move into a writing-related industry, but when I came back from traveling in March, I reluctantly agreed to return part-time.  Unfortunately, this turned into constant demands on my time, and I was unable to accomplish much outside of work.

This year, with the support of my wonderful husband, I’ve decided to devote myself full-time to writing.  I’ve reached the point where I could probably start making a good income from my writing in the next year or two, provided I dedicate all of my time to it, and any part-time or full-time jobs I take on at this point will only prolong the process.

The plan for 2016

#1: Get on track to start earning a proper income from my books

Again, I won’t genuinely start earning good money for a few years, but there are many steps I can take towards building up my writing career.

One of these is to start building up a list of subscribers who are interested in my work.

Another is to work on turning the Natural Order series into a reader funnel–drawing readers from the free prequel (the teaser) through the series, potentially to the purchase of a boxed set.

And another is to simply keep publishing as many books as I can.

#2: Publish as many high-quality books as possible

I’m aiming to publish between 4 and 6 books in 2016, some of which are full-length novels and others which are shorter nonfiction books.  However, in the pursuit of volume, I will not let the quality of my work decline.  I’ve scheduled the year to allow for multiple revision drafts for each of my fiction works, and I have a fantastic set of critique partners who can keep me on the right track.

Another part of publishing high-quality books is ensuring the whole package surrounding the books is as good as it possibly can be.  That means never settling for “good enough.”

I plan to revise and update my book descriptions and author bios until I write the best ones I can, and I’ve already embarked on refreshing the covers of my Natural Order series with the help of a cover designer.

If I want my books to compete in today’s market, they have to be as good as–if not better than–their traditionally published competitors.

#3: Build my newsletter to 1,000 subscribers

As I mentioned above, this is a huge component to ebook success.  The problem with most marketing and publishing platforms is that they’re highly subject to change.  When Amazon and Facebook and Twitter change their rules, authors suffer.

But if you have a large, active email list, you have direct access to the very people who are most interested in your books.  If the platform changes, it doesn’t have to destroy your career if you can still keep in touch with your readers.

#4: Continue hiking and exploring our new home in Wanaka

We just moved to the beautiful mountainside town of Wanaka, so in between my writing work, I’m going to keep hiking and traveling and getting to know the area as much as possible.  I have a South Island travel guide in the works, as well as a photo calendar, so I can write our travels off as research!

 

 

What are your goals for the year?  Let me know in the comments what you thought of 2015…and what you have in store for the new year.

Anyone dare me to write a novel in a month…by hand…while hiking for 60 days straight??

tent writingThis is a rather random post, since I haven’t posted much lately.  I wanted to update you on my plans…some of them sensible, and some completely the opposite!

I’ve been focusing on writing a prequel and sequel to The Natural Order, plus a nonfiction book that’s due to come out before the end of October (you can sign up here if you want to know when it’s available for free!)  I’ve also been trying to get more reviews for The Natural Order, and to build a subscriber list.  My first-ever newsletter went out earlier this week; it’s a very important aspect of book-marketing that I never quite knew how to adapt to a fiction novel until recently.

A rather long walk 

Anyway, here’s the somewhat less te araroa mapsensible news: my fiance and I are planning to hike half of the Te Araroa (the hike running the length of New Zealand) from October 20th through until Christmas.  It’s been a very exciting, hectic process getting the essentials together in preparation for the hike–you never realize how little decent backpacking equipment you have until you start planning for a 60-day hike!–and in the middle of all the scrambling preparations, I’m trying to get more marketing and writing done than I usually would do in 6 usual months.

Impossible aims…

Here are all of the goals I’ve been trying to meet before our October 20th departure, now less than three weeks away:

  1. Edit and publish my nonfiction book
  2. Market said nonfiction book
  3. Finish writing 15,000-word prequel to The Natural Order
  4. Edit and publish prequel (as a permanently free teaser on Amazon)
  5. Try (and surely fail) to finish Rogue Magic, the second book in the Natural Order series
  6. Write enough newsletters that I can automate sending one every two weeks for the entire time we’re away

And novel-writing on the go!  

Oh, and you know what?  NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is in November.  While we’re hiking.

I’ve done (and won) NaNoWriMo every year for the past 7 years, so it’s actually very hard to contemplate not doing it.  Even though we’ll be hiking eight hours a day.  And camping.  And I’ll have to write by hand.  Hmm…

I may have gone a bit too far with this one.

It doesn’t sound possible, but I can’t not try.  I don’t have an idea yet, but hiking always sparks a lot of creative thoughts, so I’ll come up with something.  And I’ll try.

Here’s to mad, impossible goals!