This Week in Self-Publishing: I Lost All My Amazon Pre-Orders

Money earned (total): $7,012.34

Money spent (total): $1,545

Money earned (this week): $103.34

Money spent (this week): $0

So I’m resetting the “money earned” tally to only include money that has arrived in my bank account. That means, so far, just the $6,909 I earned writing the Biographies drafts on Patreon, plus the $103.34 I received this week because… um…

Because this week all of my Amazon pre-orders got canceled.

Yes, that actually happened. There was a bug in Pronoun’s system, and they worked quickly to fix it, but my book disappeared from Amazon for about 8–12 hours and everyone who had pre-ordered the book through Amazon got an email indicating their pre-order had been canceled.

I’ve been in contact with both Amazon and Pronoun pretty much constantly since I realized what was going on, and both of them acted quickly and worked to find a solution. Pronoun also sent me the $103.34 I would have earned on royalties from the lost pre-orders, which was an unexpected and really lovely touch. Meanwhile, my friends and readers rallied, and I got a bunch of re-pre-orders in the past two days.

I also got a very useful piece of information: The Biographies of Ordinary People had 37 Amazon pre-orders prior to the mass cancellation.

I thought that number was closer to 100.

As you might remember if you’ve been following this series, I didn’t have pre-order data in my Pronoun dashboard for the first month after my launch. That meant I spent about five weeks estimating my Amazon pre-orders based on my Amazon sales ranking. I’d pull my daily sales ranking off Author Central, plug it into one of the many “convert sales rankings into sales” calculators, and tally that number on a spreadsheet.

My sales rankings weren’t bad, either. Biographies was ranked #11,896 out of the million-plus Amazon ebooks when it launched. As of this writing, it’s #38,999. Compared to all the ebooks on Amazon, I’m doing well! I’m almost in the top 100 of the Literature and Fiction/Literary Fiction/Sagas subcategory!

But my guess is that those “convert sales rankings into sales” calculators were created a year or two ago, and Amazon has since added hundreds of thousands of books to its catalog, and an #11,896 ranking doesn’t mean what it used to in terms of sales.

Based on my Amazon sales rankings, I thought I already had 100+ preorders and might get between 300–500 pre-orders before Biographies went live on May 23.

Now I’m expecting my pre-orders to be significantly smaller.

While all of this was going on, I got a five-star review from Foreword Clarion Reviews.

I want you to read the whole review, because this reviewer writes about Biographies in a way that makes the book clearer to me. What this story is about, who it’s for, why it’s important. But here’s the pull quote:

The Biographies of Ordinary People contains artful writing and delicately drawn characters who navigate through the universal tragedies and triumphs of everyday life. This first volume is deeply satisfying.

I feel like I could live the rest of my life on the happiness of reading this review.

Then I got an email from The New York Review of Books, asking if I’d be interested in advertising Biographies in its Independent Press Listing. They’d seen the reviews, and thought Biographies deserved the opportunity to get “mainstream attention.”

I am well aware that I will be paying for this opportunity (and that for all I know they send it to anyone who gets good reviews). But it’s a curated opportunity, and it’s the NYRB, and they’ll put my book and a quote from its five-star review in a magazine that will be sent to 150,000 people who are very serious about books, and I’m pretty sure I’m going to do it.

It also got me thinking about what the goal of publishing The Biographies of Ordinary People actually is.

If it’s pure profit, then I should be avoiding the NYRB’s invitation to advertise. I should have avoided sending my book to Foreword Clarion. I should have done Amazon KDP Select and let them autoformat my print book directly from my ebook (instead of hiring a designer to do my paperback, which I did) and just jammed out as many sales and Kindle Unlimited pageviews as I could.

But I want to make art, and I also want to be recognized for having made art, and those are two different things.

And I’m realizing that I may make very little profit on this book while simultaneously having people and organizations whose opinions I value tell me that it is very good.

I kinda feel okay about that. (It helps that I’m earning a good living already, which means that I don’t have to do this “for the money.” It also helps that I “earned my advance” already, through the generosity of my Patreon supporters.)

So maybe I’ll publish these books and they’ll do exactly what one agent suggested might happen: sell a small number of copies to a small group of readers who really like artful, quiet novels.

Or maybe I’ll send my book to the NYRB Independent Press Listing and it will get mainstream attention and I’ll sell 3,000 copies.

Or maybe I’ll pay to submit Biographies to the BookLife Prize and the Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Awards, and maybe I’ll be a winner or a finalist, and maybe that’ll sell more books and maybe it won’t sell enough books to make back the cost of admission.

Or maybe all the pre-orders I got in the past two days will get canceled again. Anything could happen.

But I got a beautiful review from Foreword Clarion Reviews, and I’m still so happy about that. ❤

This Week in Self-Publishing: Am I Going to Earn Any Money on This Book?

Money earned (total): $6,950.87

Money spent (total): $1,545

Money earned (this week): $2.79

Money spent (this week): $0

So we’re moving forward on the paperback copy of The Biographies of Ordinary People, and I’m starting to plan this summer’s mini-book-tour.

This is all good news for Biographies. The paperback is going to look great! I’ll get to go to bookstores and have conversations with other authors and readers!

It’s also good news for my career as an author, which is different from my career as a freelance writer (though closely related). I had a conversation with another author at the beginning of this process where she said, essentially, don’t wait to start acting like the person you want to become. I should start doing professional author stuff right away, like applying to be a panelist at local writers’ conventions, submitting my book for awards, and teaching classes.

Luckily for me, I’ve already been a panelist at numerous conventions—I used to do the geek convention circuit, and although I’ve scaled way back on my annual cons, I’ve been part of numerous panels on freelancing and crowdfunding and being a creative person on a budget.

I’ve also already read my fiction aloud at a handful of venues. I’ll read at pretty much any venue I can, honestly. (The public speaking part doesn’t bother me. I went to theater school.)

I’ve even started the teaching thing; this summer I’ll be teaching my second course at Seattle’s Hugo House.

So it’s all in the plan: teaching, panels, readings, award applications. I can do—and have been doing—many of the things I used to dream about doing someday.

But most of this work costs money.

When I ordered my promo cards for Biographies—you remember, the ones that I had hoped to hand out on the JoCo Cruise—I actually did the math on how many books I’d need to sell to make up the cost:

I’m kind of avoiding doing that math on other aspects of my marketing. I spent $1,125 to submit my book to reviewers, for example, which represents roughly 490 book sales.

I do in fact think I’ll sell 490 books. Maybe even by Biographies’ launch day on May 23, although that’s a stretch goal and I’m really hoping to sell 300 by then.

But the real question is whether I’ll sell enough books to start turning a profit beyond my expenses.

At this point you’ll probably ask “wait, what about the Patreon money? Aren’t you already well in the black because you crowdfunded the Biographies draft via Patreon and earned $6,909 from supporters and readers?”

Oh, for sure. In terms of straight-up earnings, I am going to be in the black for a good long time. But there are four things to consider here:

  1. That $6,909 figure was pre-tax. Only ~$5,182 was actual money in the bank.
  2. I earned that money a long time ago. I started earning monthly Patreon income in summer 2015. It’s still “in the black” money, but those actual dollars were put towards rent, food, and debt repayment months ago. (I’m debt free now, so that worked out.)
  3. That money technically went towards the drafts of both Biographies Vol. 1: 1989–2000 and Biographies Vol. 2: 2004–2016. I’m planning on counting the money I earn from sales of both volumes in a single pot as well, but there will be costs to produce and market Vol. 2—which I’m planning on doing this fall, so it can release in the first half of 2018—and that will shift the number on the earnings vs. expenses.
  4. I could very easily drop a few grand on a book tour/convention circuit.

I used to sell music and merch at geek conventions (long story) and although I knew how to hustle and how to get items off my table, I would rarely end a con with a net profit, even when I followed the “only eat one meal per day and keep string cheese in your purse” rule. Traveling is expensive, plus you have to remember that selling $600 in books or CDs or whatever doesn’t mean you’ve earned $600. You’ve earned the profit margin on each item, which might only be $2 on a $10 paperback, minus federal/state/business/sales tax.

So doing the book tour and paneling at conventions is much more about acting like the person you want to become than it is about making money.

I still want to do it. Right now I’m planning my book tour around cities I’m already scheduled to be in, which seems to be the sensible and cost-effective way to manage this, and only considering conventions that are within the Greater Seattle Metro Area. (And maybe Portland.)

But I’m also asking myself: when all of this work is done, will I have earned any money on this book?

I’d like to think so. The numbers, so far, work in my favor. But we’ll have to see what happens with sales.

Let’s say that both Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 are what’s considered a “success” in the debut literary fiction world, meaning they sell between 3,000–5,000 copies each. That would earn me:

  • Roughly $6,900 post-tax after the first book sells 3,000 copies. (It is interesting that this number is almost exactly the same as the Patreon earnings.)
  • Roughly $13,800 post-tax after both books sell 3,000 copies.

If we go all the way to 5,000 copies, those numbers bump to $11,500 and $23,000 respectively, which is money I’d be happy to see in my bank account, but also: before expenses, and probably spread out over two years. ($23,000 over 24 months is $958 per month, which actually looks better than I thought it would.)

You’ll probably also ask “why not charge more for your book, so you can earn more money faster?” Because the $3.99 price point has been determined by multiple sources to be the optimum price for a self-pub literary fiction ebook—that is, the price that gets the most purchases while also allowing the author to have the highest possible profit margin. (The paperback will be more expensive but will probably have a similar profit margin.)

I know that my biggest fans will buy the book whether I price it at $3.99 or $9.99. I’m keeping the ebook price at $3.99 for everyone else; the people who haven’t heard of me but want to take a chance on this story.

For me, acting like the person I want to become has always included being honest about the financial part of it. I’ve been sharing my freelance income online for, like, five years now, and I’m going to share my publishing income as well. I want to explain what it costs to become who I am (in the case of freelancing, it included $14,000 in credit card debt as I built my career, which I have since paid off in full) and I want to show exactly how much I’m earning.

So that’s why I’m asking whether I’m going to make any money off my book, and showing my work as I work towards the answer. ❤

This Week in Self-Publishing: Selling Books and Getting Reviews

Money earned (total): $6,948.08

Money spent (total): $1,545

Money earned (this week): $30.71

Money spent (this week): $0

I’ve got three pieces of exciting news: first, Pronoun is now giving me Amazon sales data. Since we last checked in, I sold nine books on Amazon and two on Google Play, for a total of $55.86 in gross sales and $30.71 in net profit.

I’m not sure if the fact that I don’t have any sales data for iBooks, for example, means that I haven’t sold any iBooks. I know that I’ve been selling books on Amazon fairly consistently, with the exception of the week I went on the JoCo Cruise, because I’ve been watching my Amazon sales rankings. So just because I haven’t gotten sales notifications from Pronoun doesn’t mean I haven’t made sales on iBooks/Nook/Kobo, or that I haven’t made sales on Amazon prior to this week.

It just means that I’m getting a little more information about sales now.

(As a reminder: retailers treat pre-orders as separate from actual sales, which is why I haven’t been getting all of my sales data. I don’t know if Amazon changed it’s deal or if Pronoun did, but I’m getting Amazon data now.)

Here’s what I did this week that might have contributed to those nine sales:

I wrote an article about musician and friend Marian Call’s new album, Standing Stones, that included a reference and link to my book. (One of the tracks on the album has very similar themes.) That article got retweeted by a number of sources, including NPR’s Marketplace.

I sent an email to my TinyLetter mailing list that included my second piece of exciting news: my book launch party will be held at Seattle’s Phinney Books on Tuesday, May 23. (If you’re in the Seattle area, I hope to see you there!) The email also reminded people—especially my recent subscribers—to pre-order the book if they hadn’t done it yet.

I also wrote an article for Pronoun’s online magazine The Verbs, about the importance of creating and maintaining a mailing list. (Which included a link to my pre-order page.)

I’ve said before that I make a few sales every time I mention The Biographies of Ordinary People online somewhere—which is a theory I’ve developed by tracking my Amazon sales rankings—and that all I need to do between now and the launch date in May is mention it as many times as possible. Without being weird or gross about it.

But I can mention, for example, that The Biographies of Ordinary People just got its first professional review.

That’s the third piece of exciting news: BlueInk Review sent over their review this week, and I love it.

Here’s the pull quote:

In less capable hands, the style could grow quickly tiresome, but Dieker takes her time establishing the personalities and relationships, encouraging a bond with her audience. In the end, the book succeeds in drawing readers into this quiet world.

It isn’t a starred review, which means I’m not sure if it will automatically be submitted to library distributor Total Boox. (Total Boox automatically accepts all books that get BlueInk “favorable reviews,” and… it’s not unfavorable!)

But the BlueInk review corroborates pretty much everything else I’ve heard from readers and industry people: this is a well-written book. Not much of a plot, more like a series of events that reveal character and relationship, but compelling in its own way.

Which is all I needed to know. ❤

This Week in Self-Publishing: Catch-Up Thoughts

Money earned (total): $6,917.37

Money spent (total): $1,545

Money earned (this week): $0

Money spent (this week): $0

I’m catching up after a week of being on the JoCo Cruise, so here are some catch-up thoughts.

First, I paid $75.24 a few weeks ago to get 200 promotional cards to distribute on the JoCo Cruise. On all the JCCs I’ve previously been on—which is to say five—there was a big central space for everyone to deposit and share their promo and swag.

This year, there wasn’t. Which means I am very much regretting having printed the words “pre-order” on these cards, because they’ll become obsolete in a few months. Why didn’t I just print “order?” Or just leave it at the tagline and the website? (Because I was going to be on a boat with 1,400 people and I thought for sure I could give away 200 cards.)

It is interesting to think of how much money I’ve “wasted” on stuff I didn’t fully understand, like the fact that there wouldn’t be a promo table on JCC, or that deal with the ISBNs. It’s all tax-deductible, so that’s fine, but still. Learning costs. (Which currently total $350.24.)

One thing I didn’t learning-cost myself into was subscribing to Adobe InDesign for $19.99 a month. I did a free trial instead, and quickly decided that I’ll probably need to outsource the print layout. I can do it myself if I need to, but it might look better if someone else does it. I’m working on getting all of that sorted right now.

On the “things I’m doing right” column; we’re one month from the pre-order launch and I have sold between 75–100 copies, based on the data I’ve gotten from Pronoun and Amazon. I’m telling myself it’s very definitely 75, that I shouldn’t hope for more, but I’m also telling myself that selling 300 copies before the launch date in May equals SUCCESS (selling 500 copies equals HUGE SUCCESS) and I am a third of the way there.

I can’t really start checking my email for my Kirkus, BlueInk, and Foreword Clarion reviews until next week, but I’m already getting antsy because I want a few stamps of approval—first to have them and second so I can leverage them as part of my media strategy. (“Why yes, you absolutely should read my brilliantly-reviewed novel and interview me on your thing.”)

I mean, maybe the reviews won’t be good. There is always that possibility.

I’m reading Jane Smiley’s Last Hundred Years trilogy, which I put off until I had drafted both volumes of The Biographies of Ordinary People because I didn’t want to be influenced inappropriately.

It was a good choice, because the two novels share both content and style similarities, although they’re so vastly different that no one’s going to say I’m copying Smiley. The way the books are the same has to do with the way the narrative progresses through time (which is the obvious comparison) and the use of a really tight, third-person limited point of view that alternates between characters’ perspectives.

It’s the tight part that’s similar, and it’s something I’ve only seen in a handful of other books, and there’s probably a word for it that I don’t know.

But some books, especially ones that span decades of story, have narration that kind of swoops up and gives you an overhead view of three or four years flying by before barreling down and settling in a particular character’s POV. (I’ll call this the corvid method, because that’s how they fly. Including the part where they like to get really close to people’s heads for five seconds before taking off again.)

Smiley’s trilogy, and my… duology… never rise up to the overhead view. We stick to short, intimate moments in our characters’ lives, and then we share another moment that happens a few months or a few years later, and we trust that our readers will get it; that the single, focused scenes share more about the characters, and how they’re changing, than would a bird’s-eye view of the passing years.

(Also, the bird’s-eye view thing often makes me feel like I’m eating food too fast. To mix multiple metaphors.)

The other really interesting thing about Smiley’s trilogy is that her second volume has the same problem as my second volume. Book 1 takes place within a single town and a few fixed locations (home, school, best friend’s house) and Book 2 takes place when all of the children have left home and are moving to new colleges, towns, jobs, etc. every year or so.

So I’d be reading her second book and thinking “wait, where are we? DC or San Francisco?” and then having to backtrack, my brain doing extra work that it doesn’t normally do when the entirety of a book is set in a single town (and when a character walks into a living room, it’s the same living room as it was 20 pages ago).

It’s good to know that the problem isn’t in the writing, or even necessarily in the reading—it’s in the way we’ve been trained to read books, which aren’t usually about people who live the way real people do, moving apartments and changing jobs every few years. (Smiley’s trilogy also doesn’t have a “plot” in the way Biographies doesn’t have a “plot.” I love this. It’s proof that it works.)

I want to send Jane Smiley a copy of The Biographies of Ordinary People and say “look, we both wrote these stories, and they are different and good and important,” but that would take a level of presumption that I do not have, and also I’ve heard authors hate that kind of thing.

So those are all of the catch-up thoughts I’ve had this week. See you next Friday. ❤

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. ❤

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. ❤

This Week in Self-Publishing: I Love Pronoun

Money earned (total): $6,909

Money spent (total): $150

Money earned (this week): $0

Money spent (this week): $0

First, a quick update on the “licensing lyrics” project: I never heard back from Pioneer Drama Service, and I decided not to bother with Hal Leonard. Instead, I rewrote all of the text that previously included copyrighted lyrics, and it’s going to be fine.

This week, I want to discuss Pronoun and pre-orders.


So I cannot rave about Pronoun enough. I didn’t even think I was going to use it, because… I hadn’t heard of it? It was too new?

But then I read Jane Friedman’s interview with Pronoun head of marketing Justin Renard, and other people started asking if I was going to look into Pronoun, so I set aside some time to check it out.

Pronoun is SO GREAT. All of the stuff I’ve been doing for the past six months, like comparative cover research and Amazon category research and price research, is part of their FREE book-publishing package. (It was also nice to see that my research matched theirs, because that meant I did the right kind of work.)

With Pronoun, you drop your text into their magic box and and they give you a beautifully formatted ebook. You drop your cover into another box and they show you how it compares to other covers in your genre. You type in a potential price and Pronoun tells you how well that price performs with other books in your genre, as well as how many of those books at that price point are bestsellers.

You can even check your metadata against other books with similar metadata, and Pronoun will give you keyword suggestions to help your book stand out.

“How does Pronoun even work,” you might ask, “if it is free?” Jane Friedman also asked that question, and here’s the answer:

Pronoun works not only with individually self-published authors, but we also work with a number of paid enterprise publishers and count our own digital nonfiction imprint Byliner in our business mix. Through these income-driving activities and the strategic backing of our parent company, Macmillan, we are in a unique position to continue building a truly author-centric and free publishing experience. Our core pursuit as a business is to help authors succeed at publishing. As we grow along with our authors, new business opportunities will emerge that add value to what authors need.

When I use Pronoun, I get to keep all of my royalties, which includes that nice 70% royalty coming from Amazon. I get to sell my ebook through iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Google Play, and Kobo—and all of my data and my payments come through Pronoun, which means everything gets centralized.

I also get to be part of Pronoun’s collection of authors—I already have an Author Page—which is especially important because I appear to be a (relatively) early adopter. If my book is successful, that’s going to look great for Pronoun and great for me, and maybe all of that greatness will generate more buzz and etc. (Yes, I am very strategic about this kind of thing.)

And if anything should happen, either now or five years from now, to end this relationship, I’ll own all my rights and I’ll have my own ISBN—which means I can take Biographies to KDP or anywhere else ebooks are sold.

But let’s go back to that beautifully formatted ebook. In two minutes, Pronoun did formatting work that would have taken me a full week to complete. I have a few more things that I need to put together, like front matter, but with Pronoun I’m much closer to being able to launch my pre-order than I had planned. So let’s take a minute to look at that.

Pre-orders and ARCs

Here’s how the pre-order is going to work. There are a lot of moving pieces, so I’m going to organize my thoughts along with yours.

The two biggest reasons to do a pre-order are:

  1. To give readers the opportunity to buy the book (and, more specifically, to create another promotional opportunity for the book; a pre-order is essentially a launch, with all the trappings but without the in-person parties and book tours).
  2. To get ARCs to reviewers.

Yes, it is possible to get a self-published book reviewed by the major players: Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews, Booklist, and Foreword Reviews. Yes, in some cases you have to pay for those reviews. This is one of the cases in which pay-to-play is totally legit, and part of doing business.

So. Here’s how the timeline works on that.

Once the pre-order is live, I take my beautiful Pronoun-created ARC and send it to BookLife, aka “the self-pub arm of Publishers Weekly.” Getting a Publishers Weekly review via BookLife is not guaranteed, and it’ll take 12 weeks or more, but it’s free.

Then I send my ARC to Kirkus. This review process takes 7–9 weeks, but I will for-sure get my review. I’ll also pay $425 for the privilege, but I’m guessing it’s going to be worth it—because if it’s a good review, I can immediately showcase it on the Biographies pre-order page, etc. (I can also announce it on social media and email the mailing list and tell Pronoun.)

Then I pay $695 to get my book reviewed by BlueInk and Foreword Clarion. These are the self-pub review sites for Booklist and Foreword, respectively, and they’ve combined their review services into a single package that delivers reviews in 4–6 weeks.

The big reason to do the BlueInk/Foreword Clarion package is to get Biographies into Total Boox, a service that distributes self-published ebooks to libraries. Not all libraries—you can see their list of participating libraries here—but enough that I definitely want to be a part of it. (I love libraries. The sixth chapter of The Biographies of Ordinary People is literally called “Meredith and Alex go to the library.”)

There’s no guarantee that I’ll get into Total Boox just because I bought the BlueInk/Foreword Clarion package, but all books that get BlueInk “favorable reviews” get sent to Total Boox—and, you know, I think I have a chance.

Which brings me to Library Journal. It is technically possible for me to submit my self-published book to Library Journal to be reviewed, but they want it four months in advance of publication and they also want a print copy, and they still might not select the book for a review.

However, once the book has officially launched, I can send it to Library Journal’s SELF-e program. (I am really excited about this.)

By sending Biographies to SELF-e, I’ll get my novel into what’s called the “statewide collection,” which is to say that people in Washington State will be able to check my ebook out of participating libraries.

BUT, if the Library Journal SELF-e people like my book, it goes to all the participating libraries.

And if they really like my book, they’ll write about it. In the Library Journal.

So yeah. That’s Phase One of the pre-order ARC review plan. Phase Two is getting the ARC on NetGalley, doing a Goodreads ARC giveaway—Biographies is on Goodreads already, and people are marking it as “want to read”—and sending copies to a bunch of people whom I hope are interested in reading the book and, maybe, sharing that they liked it. If they like it. (I think they’ll like it.)

While all of this is going on, I’ll also be doing the final-final proofread—ARCs can have minor errors, it’s okay—and putting together my print copy so it can be available for sale as soon as the book officially releases.

There’s an argument for giving people the opportunity to pre-order the print copy as well as the ebook, but that would push back my publication timeline by maybe two months, and now that I’ve announced that I’m publishing Biographies I really don’t want to drag it out.

I want to get the pre-order up as soon as possible and, 90 days later, launch the book.

Let’s see what I can make happen. ❤