Author Topic: From Trad to Indie Publishing, 1 Month In, What I Did & What I Learned  (Read 1767 times)  

Online JaclynDolamore

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I come from traditional publishing, with five YA novels out from Bloomsbury and Hyperion. I released the first book in my indie series a month ago, and since most of what I learned (especially about things I maybe should have done differently) I learned from here, I wanted to share, especially since I had a very hard time when I was starting finding info about going from trad to indie in YA.

I think there is a huge divide in perception and knowledge between traditional and indie YA writers. Many traditionally published writers know almost nothing of the indie market. This included me, and so self-publishing was a very scary prospect to me. But, I'm learning more all the time and I'd like to pass it on in case it is helpful to any other newbies on the boards.

Starting Line

There is a lot of info on starting out as an indie publisher from scratch. And there is also a lot of info on traditional publishing. There is NOT much info about hybrid publishing in the YA market. Even less so because the indie published works many YA hybrid authors publish are things like tie-in novellas, short stories, or sequels their publisher turned down. The data on launching a brand new series is almost nil. Would my prior published books give me any kind of advantage? I had no idea. I suspected the answer was "very little" because my most successful book released 6 years ago, and most of the bloggers and such who loved it are not blogging anymore. I have also taken a lot of social media breaks and basically been terrible about retaining fans. Part of the reason for this was because all through my traditional publishing career, the Hidden Lands books have burned inside of me and I really wanted to talk about THEM, not the books I was selling. This is an awkward way to maintain an "author face". So I am hoping I will be able to have a more consistent presence now, but either way, I don't have a lot to draw from.

Launching the Series

I put the Vengeful Half up for preorder about a month before its release on March 10th. I blitzed all my social media with the announcement of the Hidden Lands series. Between Twitter, Facebook personal and fan page, Blogspot, and Goodreads I have about 4,500 followers. It sounds like a lot, but that number is misleading, because a lot of them come from my YA author "boom era" when Magic Under Glass and Between the Sea and Sky came out, 2009-2010, and are not fresh followers who have had a recent interest in me. And also, of course, there is a lot of overlap. Once I had announced the series, I emailed a slew of bloggers offering review copies to try and get some reviews. I put up a LibraryThing giveaway for e-ARCs, a Goodreads giveaway for a paperback, and I purchased a 1-month NetGalley Co-Op for March.

Much of indie book success seems to hinge on paid advertising, but I don't have a lot of money, and I wanted paid advertisements to be able to benefit from sell-through into a second book. Since some of the paid advertising sites require a certain number of reviews, I decided to focus on getting reviews instead.

I launched the book at $4.99 and decided to go wide rather than keeping it exclusive to Amazon. Most of my sales occurred on the day I announced the preorder and on release day. Then I went almost a week with no sales at all, so I dropped the price to $2.99 to see if that would help, although I did it quietly because I wanted to measure organic sales, not sales from friends. At first, no change but then I went a week with 1 sale a day. At the 1-month mark, I have sold almost 50 books, of which 14 were paperbacks. Most ebook sales were at $4.99 and about 7 were at $2.99.

Was it what I expected? Yes, it was. My book is not written to market, or marketed to market, nor was it advertised or put on sale, so I didn't expect many organic sales, but I did definitely get a few, maybe to my pre-existing fans though.

What I Might Do Differently Next Time

The hard part about indie publishing is all the choices. All of my regrets are huge "MIGHTS" because if these other paths wouldn't have ended up being successful, I would have regretted them even MORE because they weren't my first instinct. But, I might change the way I do things next time due to results.

--I may consider more "typical" covers. When I commissioned my covers I wanted something that captured the anime feel and "magical Mafia" plot of the books, the fact that the books have my own little comics inside (and I wanted an artist whose style was a BIT like mine), looked cool, and made for a nice thumbnail. But I have since learned, um, unique is perhaps not a virtue in indie publishing. So I am always second-guessing my covers. On the other hand, you know, they were cheap, and I love them, and it's not like every book with a typical cover sells either, so...who knows.

--I think I maybe should have launched at 99 cents and booked a few cheap promos. I probably wouldn't have made much on them, because of the lack of other books in the series, and I would've lost some money from my loyal readers buying the book at 99 cents instead of $4.99, but I could've gotten the book a little more traction for a stronger book 2 launch. On the other hand (there's always that), I have 4 more books in this series, 4 more chances to promo and benefit from sell-through immediately, so patience is perhaps a virtue.

--Not sure I should have done a pre-order. I didn't get any rankings boost on Amazon when the book came out because most people had already bought it, and that wasn't great, but...it was probably good to learn the process with a pre-order. In the long run it doesn't matter much. But I may not do a preorder for The Stolen Heart.

--Should I have included so many mini-comics and art pieces in the book? It takes a huge chunk out of my Amazon sale price. I think I should have kept the delivery cost under 50 cents... In future books, I'll be scaling back on the art a bit because I just can't pay that much delivery cost per book.

--I think if I could turn back time I might have given the book a 90 day stint in KU. Although I hate the idea of keeping all my books exclusive to Amazon forever, so far I have sold exactly ONE book outside of Amazon. I'm pretty sure I would have made at least more than $2 through Kindle Unlimited page reads. I think promo and time are both necessary to make money on the other platforms and since I didn't plan a lot of promo, and time is not on my side right now (kiiiiiinda broke right now) I should have just done KU at first, then pulled it out later (unless it was really killing it).

Going Forward

Book two, The Stolen Heart releases June 10th. I don't expect to see a lot of sales for The Vengeful Half until that book releases. Right now I am focusing on finishing book 3, and then I will start gearing up some more aggressive promo for book 2. I realize this series is one of those cross-genre things that is kinda hard to market. A magical Mafia isn't really a hot concept at the moment, and it's also funny and has quirky world-building, which confuses some, and also has a lot of epic fantasy elements that don't become apparently immediately. I've struggled with comparisons, pitching it as "The Godfather meets Final Fantasy", "Cassandra Clare meets Parks & Rec" and other equally weird combos that I'm not sure have been successful. But the readers who love it really really love it, so I hopefully I can find my people and not completely lose my shirt doing it...

When The Stolen Heart comes out I'll do my first sale on The Vengeful Half and I'm definitely combing promo threads now to see how to best approach it...

Despite not making a profit yet, I am ENJOYING myself 100x than I ever did writing my other books. I have never been SO excited to sit down and write every single day. It's amazing to be able to plot a five-book series and already consider the NEXT story arc, to foreshadow things that won't happen for a long, long time, and to include the comics and all the quirkiness that makes me keep returning to this world again and again, so I am not sorry I didn't pitch the book to many people in the traditional publishing sphere.

Jaclyn Dolamore | Blog | Facebook | Twitter

Offline CM Raymond

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Thanks for sharing the story, Jaclyn.

I hope you offer updates every so often.

Offline JessicaPAuthor

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Thanks for sharing - I love this post.  I also jumped from traditional to indie publishing, and I also have never been happier in my writing career.  It's so liberating to write what you want when you want; I've also found a really, really amazing freelance editor who has turned my writing, and hopefully my career!, around.  That being said, the indie learning curve is steep.  I also struggle with the feeling that I'm always behind/I suck/my writing sucks when I hear about all these huge indie success stories that seem to be happening on the regular around me.  Tough to keep my eyes on the prize and grow my own career/readership.

I wonder as a YA author if you've considered posting to Wattpad?  I have a YA romance I wrote years ago that was pitched to publishers but never got picked up, and I'm wondering if it might be worth putting it up for free to get some traction with younger readers.

I'm also writing a series - but in New Adult - and so far I have two books out and am currently working on the third.  I priced the first book at 3.99, then 1.99, and sold maybe 50 copies?  I just made it free and saw my numbers skyrocket.  I'm hoping that readers who pick the first book in the series up for free will be enticed to pick up book #2, which I have for sale at $3.99.  At this point, it's all an experiment...

Good luck, and keep us posted on your progress!
Author of Smexy Study Abroad Romance
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Online JaclynDolamore

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CM, thanks! I'll definitely give another update when I launch book 2...

Jessica, I definitely hear you on the struggle/comparisons with others but then...that doesn't feel any different from traditional publishing either!

I might do Wattpad at some point but I have heard very few people say that Wattpad fans converted to buyers. Many more seem to say it's fun and the readers are great but they don't really buy books. I still may try it because I wonder if it might still be beneficial to build up those readers anyway over the long-term, and if it's fun, why not, but then, one has to weigh how much of a time waster it would be...

I will probably try free at some point but obviously I want more books out first. I was thinking of doing .99 promos first because it seems like it would be easier to promo it as 99 cents, and then go to free later, whereas with free you've already gone as low as you can go? But it is all an experiment, isn't it? I'll read what worked for one person and think "Oh, I'll do that" and then the next post will be someone who tried the same thing and it didn't work. It's kind of the fun and the agony of it all...

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Offline JessicaPAuthor

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CM, thanks! I'll definitely give another update when I launch book 2...

Jessica, I definitely hear you on the struggle/comparisons with others but then...that doesn't feel any different from traditional publishing either!

I might do Wattpad at some point but I have heard very few people say that Wattpad fans converted to buyers. Many more seem to say it's fun and the readers are great but they don't really buy books. I still may try it because I wonder if it might still be beneficial to build up those readers anyway over the long-term, and if it's fun, why not, but then, one has to weigh how much of a time waster it would be...

I will probably try free at some point but obviously I want more books out first. I was thinking of doing .99 promos first because it seems like it would be easier to promo it as 99 cents, and then go to free later, whereas with free you've already gone as low as you can go? But it is all an experiment, isn't it? I'll read what worked for one person and think "Oh, I'll do that" and then the next post will be someone who tried the same thing and it didn't work. It's kind of the fun and the agony of it all...

I've also heard the same thing about Wattpad...like you said, everyone seems to have a different opinion/experience.  It's always great to connect with new readers, but I agree with whomever said "authors don't want to be read, they want to be PAID to be read".  I'm still doing some research around that, but all of my books cost so much to produce - editing alone will run me over $1000, and I don't think I could unleash an unedited book of mine out into the wild! - at some point I can't keep giving stuff away for free.  So we'll see.  I'll definitely let you know what I decide!

And agreed on the pricing too.  My numbers for book #1 (FREE) are great, but I haven't seen the trickle down to book #2 yet.  Again, all an experiment, but I guess it's important at this point to focus on the long-term game.  Newsletter sign ups, finding new readers, reaching out to bloggers...hopefully it will pay off someday!

Thanks again for sharing, and best of luck!
Author of Smexy Study Abroad Romance
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Offline NightWriterCT

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Hi Jaclyn,

Thanks for sharing - this is very interesting to me (even though I don't write in the YA space yet.)  I'm wondering what the results of your outreach to bloggers was (offering ARCs for reviews). Did you get a lot of reviews? Goodreads, blogs, Amazon etc.? Did you feel that was time well spent?

Thanks.

Abby Vegas | Author Website | Twitter

Offline Marilyn Peake

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Thanks so much for sharing this! Chances are you'll see much more success after more books in your series are published. One of the many amazing things I've learned from KBoards is that books frequently don't take off these days until the third to fifth book in the series is published. Your books sound awesome! Good luck with everything!

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Offline AngelaQuarles

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I saw the same kind of sales on my second book, which was book 1 in a new series, and I didn't get a lot of crossover readers from the other series. After a couple of weeks, I pulled that book from wide and put it into KU to get some readership, so that's still an option if you want...

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Online JaclynDolamore

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NightWriterCT: Whether it was time well spent or not, I guess depends. I currently have 7 reviews on Amazon. 2 came from blog outreach. 3 came from NetGalley. I spent quite a few hours emailing the bloggers whereas the NetGalley co-op cost $35 (and still took a little time to manage but not nearly as much). Quality of reviews was about equal with either path as well.

I honestly feel a little divided as to which was the better deal. Or if I should have bothered with either! But emailing bloggers was definitely a good decision just because I was feeling so restless when I first announced the book. I wasn't going to spend those first few days on anything MORE productive, that's for sure...

Marilyn: Thanks! That's what I'm hoping! I know I rarely start reading a series when only one book is out myself, so it makes sense to me! And I really think I am just better at developing a story over time than telling a story in one book. Either way, that is something I'm enjoying tremendously over my old career path.

Angela: It's still something I'm weighing all the time...but I think I'll keep this series where it is for now. I might start my other series off in KU though and just...see which works better over time.

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Offline Gisele_1169

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I love these types of posts. Thanks for sharing, Jaclyn, and I look forward to further updates. Good luck! :)

Offline NightWriterCT

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Re: From Trad to Indie Publishing, 1 Month In, What I Did & What I Learned
« Reply #10 on: April 24, 2016, 06:11:57 AM »
NightWriterCT: Whether it was time well spent or not, I guess depends. I currently have 7 reviews on Amazon. 2 came from blog outreach. 3 came from NetGalley. I spent quite a few hours emailing the bloggers whereas the NetGalley co-op cost $35 (and still took a little time to manage but not nearly as much). Quality of reviews was about equal with either path as well.

I honestly feel a little divided as to which was the better deal. Or if I should have bothered with either! But emailing bloggers was definitely a good decision just because I was feeling so restless when I first announced the book. I wasn't going to spend those first few days on anything MORE productive, that's for sure...


Thanks!  I have queried dozens of bloggers and also purchased a $35 NetGalley co-op for May (which serendipitously came up, so I snagged it.) Another newbie question: as a co-op purchaser, how do you know when a NetGalley reviewer snags your ARC, and/or reviews the book? Do you just have to sort of cross your fingers and see what comes up on Amazon & the blogosphere, or is there some sort of notification?  Thanks.

Abby Vegas | Author Website | Twitter

Online JaclynDolamore

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Re: From Trad to Indie Publishing, 1 Month In, What I Did & What I Learned
« Reply #11 on: April 24, 2016, 08:09:03 AM »
If you went with a co-op that allows you to manage your own requests, when you log into NetGalley you will see exactly who requested and when and you can also check to see if anyone reviewed from the site. You can also see a few other stats, like what they liked about the book (cover, description, buzz, author) and how many thumbs up/down votes your cover has. Then of course you'll have to see if they (hopefully!) posted to Amazon and Goodreads from there.

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Online Amanda M. Lee

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Re: From Trad to Indie Publishing, 1 Month In, What I Did & What I Learned
« Reply #12 on: April 24, 2016, 08:23:58 AM »
Young adult is a hard sell. It's extremely difficult. I did one young adult series before ending it. I'm doing a follow-up trilogy this summer with the characters as adults but we will have to wait and see how it goes.
If you look around you can find good editors for less than $1,000. That seems high to me. It took me a long time to get an editing crew I'm happy with together, although I finally have now, and I spend less than $500 a book on two people who offer different things. I do my own covers (except for one series) so I can launch a book for right around $500. The first book in a series is tough, but I'm a firm believer in a loss leader. If you approach this as you have to make such and such from a book to make the money back so you overcharge for book one you're probably going to be disappointed. Look at it like an investment. You make less on book one to make more on the rest of the series. Eventually, if things go as planned, you can launch a new series at a higher price point. I've done it twice in a row. I used to wait until the third book was out to move the first down and start marketing for success. I still haven't moved the first of my grim reapers down and the fourth book is out because it sustains. I can do Kindle Countdown Deals, which I do, from time to time but I've found I can launch a new series at full price. That happened because I accrued a lot of fans. I honestly don't think I would've done that without a loss leader.

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Offline writerbee

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Re: From Trad to Indie Publishing, 1 Month In, What I Did & What I Learned
« Reply #13 on: April 24, 2016, 10:59:53 AM »
Thank you for sharing your shift from trad to indie in such detail! WIth your experience in YA, you already understand the market, the target demographic, the genre expectations, etc., which is great.

Why not do an experiment with KU? it is only 90 days. As you (re-)build your fan base with your new books, you can then take it wide I think KU works especially well with new authors, or authors launching with a new pen name, or re-branding.. That's not you, but it sounds like you are re-starting after an absence of a few years.

YMMV, but if sales are stagnant now, consider pulling the book off all other platforms, enrolling in KU, doing a few inexpensive promos [BKnights, etc.] just to get the word out. I'm guessing it will really increase your visibility, sales, and income from borrows.
At least with book 2 in the series, start with KU then go wide.

I've been so pleased with $$$ from  KU that I've left my books there even after the initial 90 days. (Different genre, tho)

GOod luck! Please do keep us poste3d -- I know I find these shared experiences really informative and helpful.

DMac
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p.s. I love your cover, btw ;D  Clever, distinctive.

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Offline This_Way_Down

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Re: From Trad to Indie Publishing, 1 Month In, What I Did & What I Learned
« Reply #14 on: April 24, 2016, 11:59:52 AM »
It was interesting that you mentioned hybrids. I believe this to be the future for a writer who wants stability. The number of hybrids is growing all the time. 

Online JaclynDolamore

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Re: From Trad to Indie Publishing, 1 Month In, What I Did & What I Learned
« Reply #15 on: April 24, 2016, 06:37:31 PM »
Amanda, yeah, I will definitely be using book 1 as a loss leader generally, but I did want to price it higher to start just to see how well it did. I had no idea how many fans I had that would carry over from my traditional books. The answer turned out to be, not many, at least not immediately, but hey, I don't regret the experiment. I've been playing with the price ever since. This week I'm trying 99 cents for the first time. I've also been trying to brand the series as fantasy just as much as YA, because...well, the characters do age as the series goes, there are some adult scenes and adult characters later on. But I frequently get the comment that my writing has a "young" vibe. Not sure there's much I can do about that. I seem unable to shake my general air of innocence, haha, even in real life I have this problem...

Dmac/Victoria: Thank you for the comment about my covers! I'm not giving up on them yet. The second one conveys genre better and I think that might've been my biggest mistake with book 1. I still keep thinking about KU but I just was discussing it in a YA Indie Facebook community and the consensus there was to stay wide...and I've heard it's easier to get accepted by promo sites wide? I am definitely planning some promo in the near future. So I am endlessly going back and forth about it and I really think I will just try my next series in KU but leave this one as is.

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Offline NightWriterCT

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Re: From Trad to Indie Publishing, 1 Month In, What I Did & What I Learned
« Reply #16 on: April 25, 2016, 01:12:07 PM »
If you went with a co-op that allows you to manage your own requests, when you log into NetGalley you will see exactly who requested and when and you can also check to see if anyone reviewed from the site. You can also see a few other stats, like what they liked about the book (cover, description, buzz, author) and how many thumbs up/down votes your cover has. Then of course you'll have to see if they (hopefully!) posted to Amazon and Goodreads from there.

Thank you! I guess I'll check with the fellow I bought the co-op from.

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Online JaclynDolamore

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My 2 month update, which included some big decisions.


--Recently I scheduled a brief 99 cent promotion in conjunction with a blogger book blitz. On the morning when I was supposed to go lower the price for the sale, Amazon informed me that my book file was too large for a 99 cent price! This is thanks to the pictures, but this rule wasn't super obvious from Amazon's page, nor did anyone warn me about it. I had to quickly hack 2/3rds of the pictures out of the book or the promised sale would never happen. Talk about painful, after all the work I put into them. The pictures are never going back in, because never being able to put the book on sale is just not an option...At this point, I am generally faced with the tough call that the idea of an illustrated novel is probably not a great idea financially in most cases. I pay delivery costs, readers range from "this is cool!" to "I wish it hadn't had that distracting art in it". But I do still draw all the time, just in a lot of more of a sloppy way, so I'll post that stuff around periodically.

--While I very much wanted to offer my book at all the major retailers on a philosophical basis...I have only sold a whopping one copy outside of Amazon in the past few months. So, the book is now exclusive to Amazon so it can benefit from page reads on Kindle Unlimited and the sales Kindle offers. So far I haven't seen any page reads, but I have seen a couple of rank bumps from borrows, and, well, it was already off the 30 day cliff and has had no real promo.

Hopefully the next couple of months will be more exciting. My second book, The Stolen Heart, comes out June 10th, and I'll be doing my first batch of promo on book 1 at that time. I also recently fast drafted most of an adult/NA romantic fantasy, The Sorcerer's Concubine, which I'll release a month later and put promo behind right out of the gate. The Sorcerer's Concubine loosely ties to my YA series so I'm hoping it might funnel some sales...I have the immediate feeling that the adult fantasy will be an easier sell, in large part thanks to everything I've learned here! But we'll see.


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Online LilyBLily

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There's no reason you can't do an enhanced edition--your original version--and sell it for a decent price on Amazon or elsewhere and see who bites. Why stifle your creativity? Yes, it's true that most of us discover we can sell more books with blandly similar covers and titles than with quirky and accurate covers and titles. But you don't have to totally pull back from your creative ideas.

Online JaclynDolamore

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Oh, I'll be using the art from book 1 as a freebie for my mailing list. I thought I mentioned that in the post, but apparently not! But beyond that I'm not going to keep doing the art. It takes me at least 40 hours to complete the artwork for one book. I still prefer writing over art so it's just not worth it. I'll still draw in my sketchbooks for fun of course, and post the art around.

The paperback for book 1 has the art, and always will. If I have more leisure time someday I'd love to go back and add art to all the paperbacks because it is really how I want the book to look, but...right now I have to be pretty ruthless with my time.

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