This Week in Self-Publishing: Starting the Review Process

Money earned (total): $6,917.37

Money spent (total): $1,545

Money earned (this week): $0

Money spent (this week): $1,120

Let’s start with some unfortunate news: Pronoun didn’t send me my weekly “here’s the number of people who visited your book page/where they came from/what they clicked” analysis. They’re looking into why I didn’t get it—but not having it means I can’t guesstimate how many people pre-ordered the book, and I can’t evaluate my various marketing/media strategies.

Which is a huge disappointment. But that’s okay. I’m watching my Amazon sales rankings, and it’s pretty easy to figure out what caused each bump or drop.

Not to be a super marketing genius here, but I can keep my book’s rankings above 100,000 by simply mentioning it somewhere on the internet. (Along with the book page that has the pre-order links.) You can see the days on which I did no media outreach, because that’s where that V is.

So all I have to do for the next three months is find as many new ways to mention my book, and as many different websites/podcasts/etc. on which to share those mentions, as possible.

Also, another piece of data from Amazon:

I love you SO MUCH.

But let’s move on to reviews. This week, I signed Biographies up to be reviewed by BookLife, Kirkus Reviews, BlueInk, and Foreword Clarion.

BookLife is the self-pub arm of Publishers Weekly. Creating a BookLife page for Biographies and submitting it to be reviewed was free, but there’s no guarantee BookLife will review the book. (Hold your thumbs for me.)

Kirkus Reviews is… Kirkus Reviews, and submitting my book for review cost $425. It also cost me approximately five hours of work to reformat my manuscript in Kirkus’s desired style: Times New Roman double-spaced, 1-inch margins, page numbers at bottom center.

How could that possibly take five hours? you might ask. Because you can’t just select all and tap “double space.” Books have chapter titles and headings and a lot of formatting that just goes away if you do that. So I did it one chapter a time. Also, a nearly-400-page Google Doc will load slowly, scroll slowly, and freeze often.

Luckily, Kirkus’s style worked just fine for BlueInk and Foreword Clarion, and I paid $695 for the special two-review package that gets my book reviewed by both.

So far, I’ve been most impressed by Foreword Clarion, which not only let me set up a book page (which isn’t visible yet because they have to approve it first) but also gave me a complimentary four-issue subscription to Foreword Reviews and my own marketing contact, who just sent me an email five minutes ago introducing herself and I don’t know how to respond. (“Hello, I didn’t know this was part of the deal, how can we work together?”)

Kirkus has promised my review by April 27.

BlueInk and Foreword Clarion will both get me reviews in 4–6 weeks, which probably means end of March.

BookLife is TBD, since I don’t know if they’re going to review me yet.

This cost a lot of money—$1,120 total—but I feel like it was the right move. Biographies is good. Whether it’s “starred review good” I don’t know yet, but I get to find out, and when I do, I get to put it on my Amazon page and my various book pages and I get to tell my TinyLetter and the rest of the internet.

And, as I’ve demonstrated, every time I tell people about my book, I sell copies. (That in itself is amazing, by the way. It does not always work like this.)

There’s one more reason to get those reviews and potential stars, and that’s so I can pitch my book to some of those literary sites that review debuts and so on. My media outreach list is kind of like a flowchart: if this happens, contact this person—and if I get some really great reviews from the big-name industry reviewers, then I have a good reason to say “Hello, I am for real, please consider my book for your internet website.”

I’m leaving for the JoCo Cruise next Friday and I won’t get back until March 11, so it’ll be two weeks before you get the next This Week in Self-Publishing. See you then. ❤

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This Week in Self-Publishing: Launching the Pre-Order

Money earned (total): $6,917.37

Money spent (total): $425

Money earned (this week): $8.37

Money spent (this week): $0

This week, I launched the pre-order for The Biographies of Ordinary People: Vol. 1: 1989–2000. I sent out an email to my TinyLetter, updated my Patreon(which should send an email to all of my Patreon supporters), and shared the pre-order link on social media.

That’s the link, btw, in case you haven’t pre-ordered it yet. 😉

How many people DID pre-order? I have an educated guess, but I don’t have actual numbers—and let’s look at why.

As I mentioned before, I’m running all of this through indie publishing service Pronoun, which is supplying me with a bunch of metrics and data. They track sales, so I had assumed I would see pre-order sales data in real time (which technically means “one or two days after the sale”).

However, so far Pronoun has only shown me sales from Google Play, and my three Google Play sales were actually made on Monday, one day before I officially announced the pre-order:

I’m touched that there are people who wanted to order my book so badly that they ordered it the very second it was available.

(That’s also where that $8.37 weekly earnings number came from.)

But I’m a little antsy because I don’t yet know how many Kindle or Nook or Kobo or iBook users ordered. I’m assuming I don’t have these numbers because these platforms don’t count pre-orders as “sales,” and so they aren’t reporting any of this to Pronoun—but I could be wrong. Pronoun’s website states it could take up to a week to get sales data, so these numbers could appear any second now, let me refresh the site AGAIN.

There are two more ways I can estimate how many people pre-ordered Biographies. Let’s start with the most obvious one: Amazon sales rank.

So those were my Amazon sales ranks on the evening of Pre-Order Day, and that’s because it was the first time I realized I could check them. (Yes, it took me over eight hours to think of this. Yes, I have been checking my sales ranks every hour or so since.)

My highest sales rank so far has been 11,896 “out of over one million books in the Kindle Store,” which sounds promising but really means that my initial estimate that I’d sell 40 books on Pre-Order Day and a handful of books over the rest of the week was pretty much right. (There are plenty of websites that explain how to convert your Amazon sales rank into a rough estimate of sales.)

The other way I can estimate how many people pre-ordered Biographies is by checking the analytics on the book’s Pronoun site. Whenever I distributed the pre-order link, I always used the Pronoun site instead of linking directly to Amazon. This is because NOT EVERYBODY USES AMAZON, I clearly have some Google Play fans, and it’s also because Pronoun is supposed to give me a weekly analytics dump on:

  1. How many people visited my book’s website
  2. Where they came from
  3. What links they clicked on the website

So if I see that 40 people clicked the Amazon link and 5 people clicked the Google Play link and 10 people clicked the Nook link and so on, I’ll have a pretty good sense of how many people pre-ordered. Yes, they could click one of those links and then not pre-order the book. But it’ll still show me whether I’m right to assume that fewer than 100 people pre-ordered, or whether the numbers are bigger than I expected.

How do I feel about the whole “fewer than 100 people pre-ordered” thing? First of all, I was absolutely expecting this. Second, this is just the beginning of what will be several months of marketing and media outreach. Third, I’m setting very realistic goals. Getting 300 pre-orders by launch day will be a success. Getting 500 pre-orders by launch day will be a huge success. I’m not measuring myself against best-sellers. I’m measuring myself against “a lot of self-pub books only sell 500 copies overall and a successful trad pub debut might only sell 5,000 copies.”

And I think I can beat both of those numbers. Not in a single day, but definitely over time. Vol. 1 might not hit its 5,000th sale until after I release Vol. 2 next year, for example. We’ll see what happens.

This Week in Self-Publishing: Setting Up the Pre-Order

Money earned (total): $6,909

Money spent (total): $425

Money earned (this week): $0

Money spent (this week): $0

Last night, I mashed GO on the pre-order.

(If you are curious about the target audience for The Biographies of Ordinary People, it’s “the generation that still uses the phrase mash go because they heard it on Homestar Runner when they were young.”)

I wanted to set up the pre-order early, first because I knew it might have some unexpected quirks and second because I suspected there might be a lag between “me saying PRE-ORDER IS GO” and “the pre-order showing up on book retailers,” and I’m happy to say I was right on both counts.

I appreciate the number of times I’ve been right about things during this process, which indicates, more than anything else, that I’ve done my research. Earlier this week I went to an event at Phinney Books where publishing reps shared recently released books they hoped we’d get excited about—it is literally one of my favorite events of the year—and I was delighted to see that covers like mine were on trend. (My cover is a little minimal compared to the other covers, but I’m fine with that. Keeps my thumbnail nice and readable.)

But here’s one thing I was wrong about.

So with Pronoun I have the choice between using a Pronoun-generated ISBN, which means Pronoun is listed as the Publisher of Record, or using an ISBN I purchase myself through Bowker.

If I buy an ISBN through Bowker—and I bought ten, plus a barcode, for $275—then I become the Publisher of Record. Many self-pub authors would rather not have their own name listed as the Publisher of Record, instead electing to create a one-person publishing company with an evocative name like… Starfollow Press, which is what I thought about calling my Publisher of Record for a while. (The joke is that it sounds pretty, but it’s also the two actions I want readers to take after finishing the book. STAR and FOLLOW.)

I decided not to pursue the one-person publishing company. You have to set up an LLC and run the earnings through the LLC and do all of these extra tax and business license things that I already did, once, when I set up my freelance business. Yes, I might have been able to do Starfollow Press as a DBA instead of an LLC, but either way it was a lot of work for “putting another name on my book to elide the fact that I am my own publisher,” which I am not trying to do.

So I bought my ISBNs and listed the Publisher of Record as Nicole Dieker.

When I did that, the title page on my Pronoun-formatted ebook went from looking like this:

To looking like this:

This was a problem, and not just because it looks weird to have my name on the title page twice. I didn’t realize that listing myself as the Publisher of Record would mean losing Pronoun’s branding on the title page, which I guess makes sense. If I’m the Publisher of Record, then Pronoun is only the distributor, so I don’t get the benefit of its brand on my writing.

What is the benefit of having Pronoun’s brand on my title page (and sales pages)?

  1. It’s visually attractive. (Yes, we do judge books by their covers and their interiors.)
  2. It does everything that “Starfollow Press” would do, but unlike Starfollow Press, which is a name I made up as a joke, Pronoun is a growing publishing service that was acquired by Macmillan last year.
  3. I want to be a part of that. Every experience I’ve had with Pronoun has overwhelmingly exceeded both my expectations and my imaginings—their marketing tools and metrics are just ZOMG—and I suspect that listing Pronoun as my publisher will be a vastly stronger choice than listing myself.

When you hop on the self-pub forums or read the blogs, you’ll read about writers asking whether they should get their ISBNs from Amazon CreateSpace, for example, and other writers listing all of the reasons why CreateSpace should not be their Publisher of Record. None of those reasons currently exist with Pronoun.

Except for one. Maybe.

If I end my relationship with Pronoun—or if Pronoun stops publishing (I think)—then I have to republish my book under a different ISBN, which would disconnect it from the metrics and sales data previously associated with the original ISBN, which would affect rankings and so on.

I am willing to take that risk. Let’s make my book as successful and marketable as possible this year, and not worry about what might happen in five years. (If my book is successful enough, a new ISBN won’t matter; if it’s not successful at all, a new ISBN won’t matter either.)

So yeah, I was totally wrong about the “buying my own ISBN” thing, and although I’ll still be able to use one of my ten ISBNs for the print copy, I’m essentially counting the $275 I spent on ISBNs as a loss.

Back to the pre-order process. After I agreed to use Pronoun’s ISBN instead of mine, making Pronoun my Publisher of Record, I set up a future publication date—Tuesday, May 23, although that might change depending on the print process—and then clicked a button that was nervewrackingly labeled “publish” instead of “pre-order.” (There’s a two-minute lag while Pronoun creates the files, and the whole time I was like “I hope this button doesn’t actually publish the book.”)

Clicking that button gets you a set of shiny ebook ARCs and also unlocks your book’s order site.

This is another reason why I want Pronoun’s branding on my book instead of my own: I tried to build my own order site and it looked okay—but Pronoun’s looks great. I am absolutely redirecting the Biographies of Ordinary People tab on Nicole Dieker Dot Com to the Pronoun site, so that everyone gets to see their page instead of the HTML I knit together like I was making a scarf that only required one stitch.

At this point, the rest of the pre-order process starts moving. It’ll take 1–3 days for my book to show up on retailers (and up to 10 days for it to show up on Barnes & Noble), so I’m still calling February 14 the official pre-order date (and hoping I don’t have to push it back).

Pronoun is my Publisher of Record, I didn’t have to set up an LLC or a DBA, and I am assuming that I will report earnings/sales to Seattle and to the State of Washington through the same business license I use as a freelance writer. (If that isn’t the case, this is why I have a CPA to help me.)

Next week, we might get our first look at sales. ❤

This Week in Self-Publishing: Let’s Get Serious About Sales and Money

Money earned (total): $6,909

Money spent (total): $425

Money earned (this week): $0

Money spent (this week): $275

February is going to be a really interesting month for me, self-publishing-wise. It’s the month in which I’m going to lay down most of the money required to self-publish The Biographies of Ordinary People:

We offer one-week sponsorships, where we publish a full chapter from your work, with clear links to purchase it. We put a very noticeable, attractive ad on every content page in our site. Every review, every note. You will be noticed.

There will also be some costs involved in setting up the print copy of the book, but the $1,545 I spend this month will represent the bulk of my self-publishing expenses. (Until we get to the book tour, but that’s a whole different subject.)

You could say that, since I received $6,909 from Patreon supporters during the 18 months it took me to draft both volumes of The Biographies of Ordinary People, I am still coming out ahead—and yes, if we’re counting money in terms of “are readers paying to read this” vs. “am I paying to publish this,” I absolutely am.

As of this point in the book’s story, more readers have paid to support and read The Biographies of Ordinary People than I have paid—or will pay—to publish it. I am occasionally overwhelmed by that thought. Once again: thank you, Patreon supporters.

But you could also say that the $1,545 I plan to spend this month represents a debt that I’ll need to earn back in terms of book pre-orders and sales, and those are the numbers I want to look at this week.

Because, in addition to February being the month in which I’ll spend a bunch of money, February will also be the month in which I’ll start earning money from Biographies pre-orders. ❤

Pre-order date: February 14

The Biographies of Ordinary People: Vol. 1: 1989–2000 will begin its pre-order on Tuesday, February 14. (I KNOW, RIGHT? I’M SO EXCITED.)

I chose this date for about five different reasons:

  • February 14 is about celebrating love, and Biographies is all about love. Family love. Friend love. Sisterly love. Romantic love. Love of art. Love of work. Love of creation. Love of life.
  • Plus, there’s the whole part where I love this thing I’ve made and I think you will love it too.
  • For those of you who did subscribe to the Patreon and got to read draft chapters of both volumes, you know that Biographies does not subscribe to the heteronormative happily-ever-after that still predominates in both our culture and in the majority of Valentine’s Day cards. There is a lot of happiness in this book, but I deliberately subvert a lot of the standard tropes, including the one that claims you need a romantic partner to live a fulfilling life. (How did that trope even get started?)
  • Valentine’s Day can be a garbage barge of feelings for a lot of us—it’s, like, right up there with NYE and Prom—so here’s something we can be happy about together.
  • On the subject of garbage barges: We don’t know what the news will bring on any given day, and I’m guessing February 14 will feel a lot like every day has felt since January 20—but the day is also about love and because of that I don’t mind claiming a small part of it for this story. (I can call my reps and make donations and attend protests and send a book into the world. It’s all important. It’s all love, standing up against hate.)

So the pre-order date will be Tuesday, February 14, which means the book should release in mid-May, early June at the latest. (I want to give you an exact date, but I also don’t want to disappoint you if the print process takes a week longer than expected or something.)

Pre-order predictions and best-case scenarios

Now that I’ve described my book as something that I love very much (which is true) that I hope you will love as well (also true) I am going to transition into discussing money—which might seem like the antithesis of love, like I should just fling words into the sky without any dream of long-term financial stability, but… that’s not how it works.

I wrote Biographies because I loved the story and the characters and thought it was an important story to tell right now. (More important than I realized, as it turns out. Remember that the second volume ends in November 2016.)

I’m putting the effort and the cash into publishing and marketing Biographies because I think readers will want to buy it.

Before you say “but what about putting it online for free?” I actually tried that with several chapters, and took careful notes on what happened. The chapters got a small number of readers, many of whom responded positively, but the chapters themselves never picked up any momentum. I wasn’t putting any effort into marketing, and my small group of readers weren’t doing my marketing “for me,” e.g. reblogs and so on. (My dreams of becoming the next The Martian were dashed.)

Then I announced that I was no longer doing free chapters and would only be publishing the novel through my Patreon—which had been running simultaneously all this time—and Patreon enrollment jumped, assumedly from people who had previously been reading for free and now wanted to pay $1 per month (or more) to see what happened next.

So yeah, I do think people (including perhaps you) will want to buy The Biographies of Ordinary People.

Let’s see what might happen if I’m right.

As I wrote last week, I’m distributing Biographies through Pronoun, which will sell the ebook via Amazon Kindle, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Google Play, and Kobo at a cost of $3.99 (to you) and a profit of $2.79 (to me).

I’m just going to look at ebook numbers right now, because I still don’t have profit/cost numbers on the print copy. (That’ll be April.)

At $2.79 per copy, I’d need to sell 554 ebooks to make up the $1,545 I’m going to spend this month on publishing and review costs.

Technically, I’ll need to sell more like 749 copies to earn back my $1,545, because that $2.79 is pretax money and so 25 percent of it gets set aside for taxes. Federal and business, but not state since I live in WA—and not sales, right? That comes out at the point of purchase? The $1,545 is a tax deduction, though… which is why I have a CPA and won’t be figuring all of this out myself.

Can I sell 749 copies? On the one hand, it seems totally achievable; on the other hand, it seems ridiculously impossible. I know that I do not currently have enough Tiny Letter subscribers, for example, to cover the 749 sales required. I have 13,500 Medium followers, 3,298 Twitter followers, and 1,291 Tumblr followers, all of whom will hear plenty about Biographies, but if I want to make this book a success I have to reach outside of my “platform,” as it were.

Which is what I’m going to be doing over the next four months. Probably the next six months, since marketing doesn’t end after the book launches (thank goodness).

But let’s go back to that 749 figure. One of Pronoun’s unique features is its “track any book” feature, which literally lets you track any book sold on Amazon. I dropped Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth into the tracker, because it’s a recently-released novel about a family saga, and because I want to see how the whole Amazon sales rank thing works for an established author writing in this particular genre.

I won’t get tracking data until next week, but that’s okay—I was already doing this kind of research myself, by looking up “comparative titles” and checking both their sales rank and the number of Amazon reviews they’ve received.

Commonwealth, for example, has a 185 sales ranking in the Amazon Kindle Store (as in, of all the books sold on Kindle, Commonwealth is currently the 185th best seller) and has received 1,448 reviews.

That’s not going to be my experience, I’m guessing. (Not saying that it couldn’t. Just saying that it probably won’t.)

So let’s look at a different title, one that might more accurately reflect my experience: Marcella Serrano’s Ten Womenwhich I’m also tracking on Pronoun. This book is another similar-genre (and similar-cover) story, published through the AmazonCrossing imprint. Currently, Ten Women has a 16,697 Kindle Store ranking—although its sales ranking gets into the double digits once you look at Kindle subcategories—and 48 reviews.

(Interestingly—and this is a sidebar here—both Patchett and Serrano are writing for an audience slightly older than mine. Plenty of people aged 27–37ish will read Commonwealth, of course, I read everything Ann Patchett writes, but it’s also not about our generation in the way that Biographies is. It’s really hard for me to think of a comp title for Biographies because of that, and if you know books I’m overlooking, drop ’em in the comments.)

So this is the kind of best-case scenario I’m hoping I can create for Biographies. I probably won’t be an overall bestseller, but it would be interesting to be the 50th book in a specific subcategory and to get about 50 Amazon reviews, one month after launch. (Again, this is the kind of thing that feels both totally achievable and completely presumptuous at the same time.)

The real question is how that translates into sales.

If I had to give an off-the-top-of-my-researched-gut estimate, I’d predict that 40 of you will pre-order Biographies on February 14, and another 30 of you will order the book over the next week. These numbers are based on the number of people who have already taken an action towards supporting Biographies, such as signing up for the TinyLetter or adding the book as “want to read” on Goodreads—and if I sound calculating right now I will remind you that I am, in fact, calculating. (I am not a horrible person for carefully thinking about how many copies my book could sell. I keep telling myself that.)

I’d also predict that, with the marketing plan I have in mind, I could get another 200 pre-orders before the launch. At that point, I’ll also start selling paperback copies—and I am well aware that several of you are holding out for the paperback—so that number will jump up a little more, maybe another 50–100 purchases on the day of launch itself, and a handful of stragglers over the next few days.

After that, it starts being about momentum. Yes, I’ll still be doing marketing and media outreach, plus a short tour, but much of Biographies’ success will theoretically depend on how many reviews it gets and where it shows up on Amazon’s algorithm and whether it gets chosen for specific promotions. (At least, that’s how I think it works. I don’t know, because I’ve never done it before.)

Which means that I won’t have made those 749 sales by launch day; I’ll have more likely made closer to 300–400 sales. It’s at this point where the numbers feel a bit more like they’re coming out of my butt instead of my gut, but I think I’ve made my point.

I have a book that I know readers have already loved, and that I predict other readers will also love.

All I have to do is figure out how to tell them about it. ❤