This Week in Self-Publishing: It’s Time to Start Working on Volume 2

Patreon revenue: $6,909

Book revenue: $829.88

Book sales: 172 ebooks, 122 paperbacks

Book expenses: $4,143.32

Money spent this week: $28.19 (to print the current draft of Biographies Vol. 2, shown above)


This week I had a guest post on Jane Friedman’s blog, in which I break down my self-pub marketing and promotion process and correlate costs to sales.

Much of it will be familiar to you if you’ve been following This Week in Self-Publishing since the beginning, but it’s cool to see all of the data in one place. The post has been shared all over—so many tweets and retweets and links—and it has correlated, as far as I can tell, to eight sales.

It also marks, in an interesting way, the end of the big marketing push for The Biographies of Ordinary People: Volume 1.

I’m still going to continue to market the book, but not as aggressively as I’ve been doing over the past several months. At this point, I have just a few tasks left on my burndown list:

  1. Submit Biographies Vol. 1 to a few indie bookstores for distribution
  2. Submit Biographies Vol. 1 to a few more awards
  3. Do the Portland reading at Another Read Through on August 4 and the Missoula reading at Fact & Fiction on August 11
  4. Get the handful of other readings and appearances that I am in the process of booking sorted
  5. Keep running monthly BargainBooksy promos
  6. As soon as I get ONE MORE REVIEW on Amazon, start applying to and stacking the bigger promo sites

Okay, that’s more than a few. But you get the idea. At this point, the best way for me to earn money from Biographies Vol. 1 is to send it through the promo sites, and the best way to build my reputation as an author is to participate in readings and events like Readerfest or Indie Author Day.

And, you know, to publish the next one.


So I’m getting ready to dig into The Biographies of Ordinary People: Volume 2: 2004–2016. I haven’t read this volume since December 2016, and when I was printing it at the FedEx this week my eyes kept catching on paragraphs and phrases as the pages stacked themselves in the printer tray. I wrote some good stuff, I tell you what! I’ve forgotten how good parts of it are!

But there is also a lot that needs to be revised and reshaped, and my goal is to get it all done by November. (I’ve blocked off weekends.)

Biographies Vol. 2 is scheduled to publish in May 2018, or at least that’s what I’ve been telling everybody, and part of me is asking why did you set yourself a deadline, WHAT IF YOU DON’T MAKE IT and the other part is asking why I set myself up to spend nearly every free minute on this book, both volumes, for… three years. (Counting the Patreon.)

I mean, the answer is simple. This book is one of the most important parts of my life, and I believe in it, and I want to share it with readers.

Also, I want to firmly launch the author half of my career.


On the subject of my career: I really really really really really want to redo my website.

For two reasons.

First, I want a professional-looking site where my face looks great and my book covers look great and there are links to follow me on Twitter/Tumblr/Instagram/Goodreads/BookBub. I want a site that makes it really easy to buy my books, read my blog, and sign up for my TinyLetter.

And then I want to take the personal side of my life, or at least the part I share in public, and put it in the TinyLetter. Which will also be my blog. They’ll crosspost.

I don’t know if you’ve been on Twitter lately, but it’s not a great place to hang out right now. Which makes me sad, because it used to be my fav space. Now, like, a million people just quit using it. (Seriously.)

And Tumblr is a little better, but… social media is no longer a place to go to relax.

I used to describe Twitter as a library, where you could look up from your book and say “hey, I read this cool thing” or “I just thought of this funny joke.” Now it’s more like an airport; that is, an anxiety amplification zone with constant news pings that you’re pretty sure you’ve heard before but feel like you have to pay attention to just in case.

So I want to try a different way of telling people about cool things and jokes and thoughts, and the book, and all the rest of it. And yeah, it means going back to blogs and newsletters, because those are the things I’m reading now, more than anything else. (Aside from the Washington Post.)

I guess I have to decide which podcast I like best, so I can put their code into the Squarespace URL. ❤

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This Week in Self-Publishing: The BargainBooksy Promo Worked

Money earned (total): $7,696.76

Money spent (total): $4,115.13

Book sales (June): $304.65

Money spent (this week): $0

I’ve had a request to reshape my starting metrics, because they aren’t immediately clear to new readers and because they don’t include a “total books sold” metric or anything like that.

A better set of metrics might look something like this:

Patreon revenue: $6,909

Book revenue: $806.69

Book sales: 168 ebooks, 118 paperbacks

Book expenses: $4,115.13

Money spent this week: $0

It’s still not immediately clear to new readers that I funded The Biographies of Ordinary People through Patreon support, or that “book expenses” represents everything I’ve spent on publication and promotion so far, but… hey, this list of metrics has more numbers in it! Plus it has the sales number, which is the one y’all want.

And, on the subject of sales… it’s time to for me to rave about BargainBooksy.


There are a number of “pay us to send your book to our email list” sites: FreebooksyBargainBooksyThe Fussy LibrarianBookBubBookSendsReadingDeals, etc. etc. etc.

Some of these sites are obviously more reputable than others, and if you want an overview and a review of the top contenders, I’d start with Dave Chesson’s list (and yes, dump your email into his form to get the special ROI PDF, it’s worth it).

Many of these sites have some kind of gatekeeping mechanism: you need at least five Amazon reviews and an average 4-star ranking, you need at least 10 Amazon reviews and an average 4-star ranking, you need some kind of media attention or social proof, etc. Others require you to discount your book by a certain percentage or price point.

BargainBooksy just requires your book to be priced under $5, so I started there.

Before I gave BargainBooksy any money, I signed up for their literary fiction email list and tracked the Amazon sales rankings of the books they sent me in my daily email. A few hours after the email went out, the books on the list would be ranking in the 20,000s or 10,000s (or higher) on Amazon, and at #200–100 (or higher) in their individual category.

(Wait, do I mean “higher” or “lower?” You know what I mean here. Most books were ranking at #200–100 in their category, and a few were ranking at #50 or #4.)

So I paid BargainBooksy $35 to send Biographies to its list of 97,000 literary fiction fans, knowing full well that at least some of those “fans” were writers like me who had only signed up with the list to test it.

When the email went out, I watched my book climb the rankings. It stayed in the 100s for two days, topping out at #120 in Literary Sagas and #16,507 overall:

In fact, when Pronoun sent me an email announcing that I was in the top 6 percent of my category, their information was already out of date:

This was the highest my book had ever ranked since the day I announced the pre-order. The sales bump stuck around for three days; I was #16,507 on Sunday, #19,085 on Monday, and #34,947 on Tuesday. (After that I dropped back to “nobody is buying your book” numbers.)

But here’s what those rankings actually meant:

  • I sold 19 Kindle books (and 1 iBook) on Sunday.
  • I sold 5 Kindle books (and 1 Nook book) on Monday.
  • I sold 2 Kindle books (and 1 Kobo book) on Tuesday.

You only have to sell 19 books to rank in the 10,000s on Amazon. (Or, technically, the 16,000s.)

When I was trying to estimate preorder sales, I kept dumping my sales ranking into these “convert Amazon sales rankings to sales” calculators and got numbers that were much higher than my actual preorders. It seems like the more books are added to Amazon, the fewer any book has to sell to reach a certain ranking.

The math is actually very interesting on this, because of course you still need to sell a very large number of books to hit #1, but at a certain point—and I’d love to see some data on exactly where that point is—you only need to sell a very few books to be the 16,507th most popular book on Amazon.

And of course subcategories inflate the idea of bestselleredness even more, I mean, it only took 19 books to hit #120 in Literary Sagas.

But there’s one more thing you need to know about BargainBooksy: it’s the first promotional tool I’ve used that has actually delivered a return on investment. I put $35 in and got $75.18 out, for a gross profit of $40.18.

Which means I want to do more of these email promos, and as soon as I get enough Amazon reviews I’m going to sign up for some of the more gatekept ones.

Not to give you a call to action, but if you’ve read The Biographies of Ordinary People and you’d like to leave a review, it would be very much appreciated. ❤

This Week in Self-Publishing: This Week in Self-Promotion

Money earned (total): $7,696.76

Money spent (total): $4,115.13

Book sales (June): $304.65

Money spent (this week): $175.27 (20 books sent in consignment to a bookstore, and a Bargain Booksy promotion)

So I heard back from a publicist—a company, not an individual—that was interested in working with me but had rates far beyond what I could afford.

And yes, it’s hard to turn something like that down. There’s a path in my mind where I said yes, and the publicist made my book popular enough that book sales more than covered the cost of their services.

But let’s look at what I got done this week “on my own.” I’m putting “on my own” in quotes because I didn’t do any of this just by myself; interviewers reached out to me, websites and bookstores said yes to me, my friend Kayla knew a designer whom we could hire to make a poster, etc. etc etc. It’s never just a solo act.

Still, here’s the list:

  • I rewrote my book description with more “feelings words” and sales ticked up IMMEDIATELY.
  • I did an interview that should appear on a Major Book Website, although I know that there are no guarantees until I actually see it go live.
  • I booked a guest post on a Major Self-Publishing Website, which I need to write this weekend.
  • I wrote a guest post that will appear on a book reviewer’s blog.
  • I sponsored the Seattle Review of Books again, and although I don’t have actual sales data yet, this was my Amazon ranking at the peak of the promotion:

  • I paid $35 to be listed on Bargain Booksy and included in the daily email that will be sent to 93,000 readers interested in literary fiction. (The email with my book in it will go out on Sunday, so let’s see how many people actually open it and buy the book.)
  • I paid $140.27 to send 20 books “on consignment” to Portland’s Another Read Through, the indie bookstore that’s hosting my reading on Friday, August 4. (“Consignment” means that I’m fronting the cost of the books, and the bookstore and I will both earn a little profit when they sell.)
  • We got art for our Missoula event on Friday, August 11. It’s so great. Thanks, Lindsay Goldner Creative! ❤ ❤ ❤

Between the Seattle Review of Books promo, the Bargain Booksy promo, the event at Another Read Through, the event at Missoula’s Fact & Fiction (also featuring author Kayla Cagan and musicians Marian Call and Seth Boyer), and the interviews and guest posts, I should keep my sales up at least through the end of August.

And I still have a whole list of publicity-related items left to do before the end of July.

So I’m not doing badly. In fact, Pronoun sent me an email on Monday to let me know how well I was doing:

And everyone who has read the book is still telling me how much they loved it, and how much they’re looking forward to the next one.

So yeah, there’s a path I didn’t take where I would have spent a pile of money I couldn’t afford and maybe achieved FAME and FORTUNE or at least MEDIA COVERAGE and BREAKING EVEN.

And maybe my goal is to save up a pile of money for Volume 2, so I can hire someone to help me with the publicity end.

But good gracious, I haven’t done badly on my own—or “on my own”—and that’s just looking at what I did this week.

This Week in Self-Publishing: Sales, Appearances, Reviews, Ads, Awards, and Plans

Money earned (total): $7,696.76

Money spent (total): $3,939.86

Book sales (June): $304.65

Money spent (this week): $390.70 (advertising and Goodreads Giveaway mailings)

This week’s update—to quote John Green—comes to you in six parts.

Book Sales

In May, I sold $350.40 worth of books. This included the ebook preorders, because they didn’t track as sales until May; the paperback preorders sold in April tracked separately and totaled $29.37.

In June, I sold $304.65 worth of books: 44 ebooks and 56 paperbacks.

It’s worth noting that I already spent more this week than I earned in the entirety of June. Am I still viewing this book project as “a way to earn money?” I’m still in the black, in terms of earnings vs. expenses, but I’m starting to think of this more as a career-building exercise. Can I front enough money to get enough exposure to build my career/reputation/audience?

And yes, I know I used the “exposure” word, which is the one that freelancers aren’t supposed to say. But this isn’t freelancing—most notably because I’m doing this work to benefit myself, not a client—and it feels like it really is about exposure, at this point.

On that subject:

Bookstore Appearances

I am excited to announce that I have two readings planned:

Friday, August 4, 7 p.m.: Another Read Through in Portland

Friday, August 11, 5:30 p.m.: Fact & Fiction in Missoula, with author Kayla Cagan and musicians Marian Call and Seth Boyer

I am still anticipating setting up a few more readings for The Biographies of Ordinary People: Volume 1: 1989–2000 this fall, and then starting a new cycle of readings when I release Volume 2: 2000–2016 next May. (I keep saying “May 2018,” so I had better deliver.)

Reviews

This week I realized I could find a whole lode of book reviewers via Twitter’s “Who to Follow” section; unlike that enormous listing of book bloggers I scrolled through two weeks ago, these reviewers were more likely to be actively reviewing. They were also more likely to be interested in a book like mine, thanks to Twitter’s algorithm; finding one book reviewer interested in literary and contemporary fiction led me to three more reviewers interested in literary and contemporary fiction.

So I sent out five more review pitches this week. I haven’t heard any responses yet, but it’s a holiday week; if they don’t respond by the end of next week I’ll assume they’re not interested.

I also tried a new pitch method: including social proof, or “this book has previously been featured on,” in the pitch. I’ve always dropped in one or two quotes from my Goodreads reviews, to let people know that readers love the book, but this time I added links to articles and podcasts as well.

I sent out my Goodreads Giveaway paperbacks this week, and I’m hoping I’ll get a few reviews out of those as well; on Goodreads, of course, but maybe also on Instagram or Tumblr.

Because, you know, exposure.

Ads

The Seattle Review of Books reached out and asked if I was interested in purchasing another ad, and I was like awwwwww yeah, let’s do it. So that’ll run next week, and it’ll probably boost my sales a little bit. (I mean, that is the whole point.)

I’ve also been thinking about purchasing more ads. Not the junky ones that run in tiny print at the bottom of Goodreads or Amazon. The banner and skyscraper ones that cost a little more money but look really good. (Yes, I’ve already done the work to figure out how to buy them.)

The problem is that I would also have to design the ad, which I could probably do through Canva, and come up with copy for the ad, which would probably be a quote from one of my editorial reviews.

I’ve actually been thinking about copy for a while, and whether I need to restructure mine. I’ve been listening to the LeVar Burton Reads podcast, for reasons that should surprise nobody, and I also got to see Kayla Cagan’s copy for Piper Perish set next to mine on Fact & Fiction’s website, and I was like, “Okay. LeVar and Kayla’s promo copy describe books in terms of feelings.”

LeVar Burton literally says “you’ll feel chills.” He tells you about the experience you’re going to have. Piper Perish’s copy is more subtle, but it still focuses on feelings:

But in the final months before graduation, things are weird with her friends and stressful with three different guys, and Piper’s sister’s tyranny thwarts every attempt at happiness for the Perish family. Piper’s art just might be enough to get her out. But is she brave enough to seize that power when it means giving up so much?

My copy, on the other hand, is more about references:

Written for fans of Betsy-TacyLittle Women, or A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, the story is an episodic, ensemble narrative that takes us into intimately familiar experiences: putting on a play, falling out with a best friend, getting dial-up internet for the first time. Drinking sparkling wine out of a paper cup on December 31, 1999 and wondering what will happen next.

Because I’m the kind of person I am, that kind of expectation-setting is attractive to me. I rarely “feel chills” while reading, but I love stories about putting on plays.

But I’ve been looking at a lot of ads and book promo copy, and they’re all packed with feeling words. My copy is packed with action words, and the only feeling word is want.

(Feel free to extrapolate anything you like about my personal/emotional life from that sentence, because I certainly did.)

Awards

Luckily for me, my readers and reviewers are way better at describing the feeling of reading my novel than I am. This week I got my BookLife Prize Critic’s Report, and here’s an excerpt:

Dieker writes with unrepentant honesty about the human condition, crafting the story of the Gruber family with subtle narrative tension and the central claim that every life is worthy of a biography.

The BookLife Prize is one of those book contests where the judges rank each book as it is submitted. I am currently in sixth place in the Fiction categorywith a score of 8/10, but I think that means I won’t ever be in first place, and my book ranking may drop as other people submit their books for the award.

I still need to submit for the IPPY and the Ben Franklin award. Maybe I need to rewrite my copy with feeling words first.

Plans

I have a “burndown list” of all the actions I still want to take with Biographies Vol. 1 before I start working primarily on Biographies Vol. 2. Although the list itself is fairly detailed, the actions can be divided into a few general categories:

  1. Get more reviews
  2. Pitch a few more posts/articles about the book, especially re: “what I learned about self-publishing”
  3. Book two or three more readings
  4. Decide how many ads I can afford to buy
  5. Decide whether I’m going to do the publicist thing

I did hear back from a publicist this week, and I need to contact a few more. The question is how much money I want to invest into this process, because once you get into buying banner ads and working with publicists the dollar signs start rising quickly.

Which means I also need to decide what “success” looks like for this project, and how much money I’m going to be able to put towards that success before I have to stop.

Is success “a bunch of readers have told me how much they love my book?” Because that’s happened. (It’s kind of happening daily.)

Is success “throwing a good launch party and planning readings with friends?” That’s happened.

Is success “selling more than 500 books?” I’d sure like it to be. Remember, I originally hoped I could sell 3,000.

Is success “being known for your work?” Yes. For sure. And that’s sort of happened, but only in a very small circle.

So I have to widen that circle, and I think I might have to do it by throwing money at it. The question is how much, and where, and when do I accept that the circle is as wide as it’ll ever be—at least until I publish the next book?