This Week in Self-Publishing: My To-Do List

Patreon revenue: $6,909

Book revenue: $899.96

Book sales: 196 ebooks, 134 paperbacks

Book expenses: $4,239.85

Money spent this week: $96.53 (on awards fees and shipping for the IPPYs and the Washington State Book Awards)


So I just want to run down all the stuff, really quickly, because I have a lot of work to do and the news is THE NEWS. You know.


The Missoula reading at Fact & Fiction went very well! There was music, there was reading, and then Marian Call led a short Q&A afterwards. (I’m always glad when there’s someone to MC the Q&A. It goes so much better than when I try to do it myself, because if nobody has any questions the MC can always ask one of their own, and that usually prompts an audience member to think of one.)

I don’t have Missoula sales to announce because they didn’t do a consignment agreement (where I provided the books and they sold them and we split the money). They ordered the books outright from IngramSpark, so I don’t know how many of my Ingram sales were from Missoula. I’d guess the same number that I’ve been selling at my other readings: 10–15ish.


I submitted Biographies to the IPPYs and the Washington State Book Awards this week. I opened up the Ben Franklin awards page and thought “$225? Seriously?” and then I wondered if I really needed to submit to that award.

I’m getting more hesitant to spend money on this book, now that it’s out in the world and I can see what it’s doing. I’m definitely going to spend some money on book promos like Bargain Booksy and Reading Deals and etc.—because we’ve already proven that those earn back their investments—but I’ve already submit to five awards, and maybe I can be done?

OR WOULD THIS BE THE ONE AWARD I WOULD ACTUALLY WIN AND I MISSED MY CHANCE BECAUSE I’M TOO CHEAP TO SPEND $225?

Right. Moving on.


Right now Nicole Dieker Dot Com redirects to an animated GIF of a kitten falling over, which is adorable, but it also means that I am in the process of building a new website.

I am at the very beginning of the process, and since I am doing this while simultaneously helping The Billfold with its website migration, I know just how much work this is going to take.

But I want this website so badly. I feel like it’s the next step in my professional process: gettin’ a site that has all my stuff in one place, and migrating these posts over to it, and linking to my freelance work and myHugo House classes, and telling everyone to sign up for my TinyLetter.

So I gotta build this site. And get new headshots. MY HAIR ISN’T EVEN THAT COLOR ANYMORE.


The trouble with getting new headshots is that I feel like I haven’t made a genuine smile since Trump got elected.


So my current order of operations is:

  1. Do the website
  2. Do this month’s Bargain Booksy promo
  3. Start sending out thoughtful & interesting TinyLetters that include links to this week’s This Week in Self-Publishing post as well as my best freelance stuff from the week, interesting links I’ve read, upcoming appearances, you know how TinyLetters work
  4. Submit Biographies Vol. 1 to other promo sites
  5. Appear at Readerfest in Seattle on September 9—YES, THAT IS MY NEXT PUBLIC THING, LET’S HANG
  6. Focus fully on revising Biographies Vol. 2 (I have several weekends blocked off for this)

CAN WE DO IT ALL?

PROBABLY YES. I am good at doing a lot of things.

But wow this will take a lot of work, in addition to all of my freelance work and checking in with whatever’s happened in the world since I began writing this post. ❤


I ALSO WANT TO DEEP-CLEAN MY APARTMENT BECAUSE I’VE BEEN AWAY FROM HOME FOR THE PAST TWO WEEKENDS AND EVEN THOUGH I’VE BEEN WIPING THE SINK DOWN THERE IS STILL DUST COLLECTING EVERYWHERE.

This Week in Self-Publishing: En Route to Missoula

Patreon revenue: $6,909

Book revenue: $888.20

Book sales: 193 ebooks, 133 paperbacks

Book expenses: $4,143.32

Money spent this week: $0.00 (Did I include the cost of flights/hotels to Missoula back when I bought them? I can’t remember. I should do a more thorough tally at some point, because I know I didn’t count the cost of the Bolt Bus to Portland last week. I think I forget that travel also counts as book expenses.)


I’m writing this from a tiny plane en route to Missoula, where I’ll be doing a reading tonight at 5:30 p.m. at Fact & Fiction bookstore with author Kayla Cagan and musicians Marian Call and Seth Boyer.

The plane is so old that I can’t imagine how old it actually must be; the seats are comfortable and wide and there is enough legroom for two of me if we sat in front of each other.

There’s also… I mean, I’m not sure this plane has wings? It must have wings. But I can’t see them — only these propeller tube things attached to the plane by metal bars, the kind of apparatus that I can only imagine coming apart.

But it hasn’t come apart yet, because this plane has flown for so long that it feels like being in the past. I have to keep reminding myself that this is, in fact, right now.

I sold nine books at my reading at Another Read Through last Friday, and I don’t know yet exactly how much I’ve earned from those sales, but the check should be arriving soon.

I’ve also been getting more Amazon reviews, all of which remind me that this book is doing exactly what I hoped it would do. Here’s one excerpt:

Being the oldest in the family and an ardent reader I related to Meredith in the beginning. I saw myself in Natalie when she got her first glasses. I understood Rosemary (the mother) even as I was bonding with her children. Jack the father reminded me of my father.

Nicole Dieker writes in a style that makes you feel you are a fly on the wall. I found myself reading “just one more chapter” until I reached the end. I am happy that it was not really “the end” and look forward to her next book.

(If you liked that review and you haven’t yet bought The Biographies of Ordinary People: Volume 1: 1989–2000here’s the link.)

Also, to the person who included in their review that they were glad this was a trilogy, um… it’s a duology. For now. I’m pretty sure forever. Since Volume 2 ends in 2016, I’d have to wait another 15 years before I could write another book about these characters.

I am in the process of creating a new website, in which I’ll be able to showcase my freelance writing work, my novel, and my teaching. It’ll serve as an online portfolio as well as a place for me to put these blog posts (sorry Medium, we had a good run) and any other bloggy-type stuff I want to share.

I know it’s ridiculous to think of writing even more blog posts in addition to my daily work at The Billfold and my monthly work at Lifehacker, The Write Life, The Verbs, and Reviews.com. (And revising and prepping Volume 2 for publication.)

But… like, I wrote this post for The Billfold about wanting to detach a little from social media. I used the phrase “I could be one of those people who makes the successful transition from social media renter to website homeownership,” which is… apt. I want a home base that I can call my own, where I can showcase my work and share my thoughts.

I’m also going to apply for three more awards when I get back: the IPPYs and the Ben Franklin awards, which I’ve mentioned before, along with the Washington State Book Awards, which I just learned about and which are apparently free to enter as long as I mail six copies of my book to the Seattle Public Library? I can do that.

And, of course, do another BargainBooksy promo and start applying at the other promo sites, now that I have more Amazon reviews. (Thank you.)

So that’s where I am this week. Literally in the air, as I try to put a bunch of things together and get whatever this becomes started. ❤

This Week in Self-Publishing: I Got My First Royalty Payments

Patreon revenue: $6,909

Book revenue: $858.05

Book sales: 184 ebooks, 122 paperbacks

Book expenses: $4,143.32

Money spent this week: $0.00


This week, I received my first royalty payments: $283.86 from Pronoun and $29.37 from IngramSpark. (The Pronoun money represents ebooks sold through May 31, and the IngramSpark money represents paperbacks sold through April 30.)

The Biographies of Ordinary People also got its fifth Amazon review, which means I’m now eligible to submit Biographies to a few more promotion sites—which, in turn, should get me some more sales and reviews, which will open up more promotion sites, and so on.

But… I’m not going to do the promotions right away.

First, I’m going to get on a bus to go to Portland and do my reading at Another Read Through. (7 p.m. tonight! Hope to see you there!)

Then, I’ll fly to Missoula and read at Fact & Fiction along with author Kayla Cagan and musicians Marian Call and Seth Boyer. (Friday August 11, 5:30 p.m., and I hope to see you there too!)

Then I need to submit my book to the IPPY and the IBPA awards before the early-bird deadlines run out.

Then I need to re-do my website and prioritize my TinyLetter.

Once all of that is done, I’ll be ready to go for the bigger promotion sites. After all, the goal isn’t just to sell books. It’s to get mailing list subscribers, blog readers, etc. etc. etc. and I want everything I’m presenting to them to look… like something they want.

And something I want, because—like I wrote last week—I want a professional website that highlights both my freelance and my fiction work. I also want to share more through blog posts and TinyLetters and less through Twitter and Tumblr. (Though I’ll still crosspost my TinyLetter to social media. You gotta do that.)

That’s all for now because I gotta GET ON A BUS, y’all. ❤

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. ❤

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?

This Week in Self-Publishing: What I Did and What it Got Me

Money earned (total): $7,392.11

Money spent (total): $3,549.16

Book sales (last month): $350.40

Money spent (this week): $52.85 (book mailings and a bookstore booking fee)


Sales in the past seven days:

Three ebooks, 21 paperbacks. This is the opposite of what I expected. I’m delighted that you are all buying paperbacks! Libraries, too; I keep getting messages from people who have found (or requested) my paperback in their library, and I recently learned that the Multnomah County Library in Portland is stocking my book, which touches my heart because that was my very first library as a child.

If you want to buy The Biographies of Ordinary People: Volume 1: 1989–2000here’s a link to multiple retailers. (Also IndieBound.)

Promotional activities I’ve undertaken in the past seven days:

I looked through a 52-page database of book bloggers as well as lengthy lists of book Instagrammers and book Tumblrers to identify people who were:

  1. still actively blogging
  2. interested in literary fiction
  3. accepting review requests

About four hours of research yielded ten promising contacts, and of those ten people, I got two responses—which is not the number I was hoping for, but I’m still excited that two people want to read and review my book. ❤

I also contacted four Portland bookstores about readings, and got one yes, which is exactly the number I was hoping for. Thanks to cartoonist Lucy Bellwood for tipping me off to the best indie bookstores in town, and I’ll share more details about the event when it’s ready to go public.

BTW, Lucy Bellwood had me on her podcast last month to discuss self-publishing, and if you haven’t gotten a chance to hear the episode, it’s great:

But back to “what I did this week.” I also reached out to two major media sources: the NPR Books Tumblr, which invites people to email book review requests—and remember, my third chapter is titled “Jack plays the NPR game in Kansas”—and This American Life, which just announced a call for pitches that is relevant to my novel.

I’ve been in the freelance business for long enough to know that this is all a numbers game and that many of the numbers will be rejections, but if you get enough acceptances you start to build momentum/reputation/audience and eventually you become a Senior Editor and a columnist and all the other things I currently am.

Of course, that process took me about three years, and the shelf-life of a debut novel is more like three months.


I also started thinking about whether I needed to hire a publicist. First to see if there’s anything else we should be doing for Biographies Vol. 1 before the newness wears off, and then to see what we could do for Biographies Vol. 2.

The thing is that I have a lot of factors that could be considered “good hooks:” I funded my advance through Patreon, I’m writing this Millennial novel that goes all the way through to 2016, I’ve been tracking the financial process online, um… maybe I only have three good hooks. (Also a good book, which should count for something.)

And working with someone who knows a little more about publicity than I do—because I know about pitching editors, which is related but not quite the same thing—might help Vol. 2, which will by default help Vol. 1.

Plus I’ll have another “good hook” if I tell the story of how I tried to publicize my first volume myself and then hired a publicist for the second go and did way better. That’s the kind of article that self-pub blogs and industry sites would love.

YES I KNOW I AM SOUNDING LIKE THE WORLD’S BIGGEST SLYTHERIN. I have to be strategic about this, because… how else does one figure out what to do?

There’s also this interesting angle that I just realized: I’m submitting Vol. 1 to a pile of awards—the IPPY and Ben Franklin awards just opened submissions, and those are huge indie deals, so I’m going to add them to my list—and these awards all announce in June.

One month after Vol. 2 is scheduled to release.

So this is where having a publicist could be helpful. Should I hold Vol. 2 until July or even August, with the idea that winning an award on Vol. 1 might give it another promo opportunity that we should fully take advantage of before doing another book launch? Or should I publish Vol. 2 exactly one year after Vol. 1 as planned, so all the people who buy Vol. 1 after it (theoretically) wins an award will be able to buy Vol. 2 immediately?

Because if there’s one thing I know, it’s that a lot of you want Vol. 2 IMMEDIATELY.

Hiring a publicist will probably destroy any hope I had of making a profit on Vol. 1, but if you look at this like simultaneously playing the long game and the short game, i.e. “building my long-term career as an author” while also “getting as much coverage for these two books, while they’re still new, as I can,” it makes sense.

Or I could keep figuring out how to do all of this myself. I’m really enjoying learning about publicity, but I don’t know if I want to waste my inexperience on what I know is a really good novel, because who knows if I’ll ever be able to write something like that again. (I’ll never do another Millennial coming-of-age story set in the immediate past, that’s for sure.)

Thoughts are, as always, welcomed. ❤

This Week in Self-Publishing: What Else Should I Be Doing Right Now?

Money earned (total): $7,392.11

Money spent (total): $3,496.31

Book sales (last month): $350.40

Money spent (this week): $0

First: my Goodreads Giveaway is live, and you can enter to win one of five signed copies of The Biographies of Ordinary People. (The entry period ends on Monday, June 26.)

794 people have entered the giveaway as of this writing, which I find kind of astounding. I mean, some of them have to be bots, right? And some of them probably enter every giveaway. But many of them might actually be interested in my book, which is… you know, everything that’s happened so far, from the book launch at Phinney Books to the reviews people have left on Amazon and Goodreads to the chance to meet the Pronoun team in New York, has been amazing. Now all of these people are signing up to win a free copy of my book, when I thought maybe 100 people might do it.

Everything is going well. So what else should I be doing right now?


When I say that “everything is going well,” I don’t mean that I’m getting every opportunity I go after. I’ve sent my book to a few reviewers who haven’t responded. I couldn’t get a reading set up in NYC, and I’m still working on getting one set up in Portland. (Yes, I asked Powell’s, and yes, they turned me down.)

But then I see the feedback from people who have read the book, the reviews and the Facebook comments, and I can only think “everything is going well.” Because people are connecting with the book, and enjoying it, and engaging critically with it. They’re understanding what I set out to write; there’s no disconnect between what I hoped to do with this book and what readers are experiencing when they read it.

Which, of course, makes me want to get the book in front of as many readers as possible. (Especially readers in my target audience, which is essentially “Millennials who grew up loving Little Women and Anne of Green Gables and wished they could be part of that kind of story.”)

I’ve sold 37 ebooks and 35 paperbacks so far this month, and I’m still getting near-daily sales but they’ve started to slow down just slightly, which means I need another way to get my book out there, drop its name in a place where readers might read it.

And I’m making near-daily attempts. This week I submitted Biographies to the Seattle Book Review (different from the Seattle Review of Books) and to Self-E; even though I already have library distribution through OverDrive and Bibliotheca, requesting additional library distribution through Self-E means that Library Journal will consider my book for review and my book will automatically be submitted to the Self-E State Collection so libraries in Washington State will have access to it.

I’m also continuing to pitch book bloggers and reviewers, and I’m trying to figure out how far to go with this; I’ve discovered that you can in fact just send your book to Fresh Air or to The New York Times, although what they do with it after it arrives is up to them. And sure, you can say “well, is your book good enough,” and then I can counter with a quote from one of my readers:

I also loved this novel because I identified so strongly with Meredith—I’m amazed someone else can understand and articulate how she lives in her own head and observes/analyzes/self-edits like I did as a child (and still do).

I’ve been saying from the very beginning that I know my book is good. It’s also different enough from other books, in terms of topic/scope/style—not to mention the self-pub aspect and the “I funded it through Patreon” aspect—that it could have the opportunity to stand out, if I could figure out how to help make it stand out.

(Occasionally I think about hiring a publicist, though it might be a little late in the game for that.)

I only have a few months left to really focus on promoting Biographies Vol. 1; in September, I’ll need to fully focus on revising Biographies Vol. 2. (Which, by the way, EVERY REVIEWER has said they want to read.) My mind is already ahead of me, jumping back into the characters’ worlds, generating ideas right before I fall asleep that turn into scribbled notes that I have to decipher in the morning.

But there are a whole list of things I still want to do with Vol. 1. For starters: people keep asking if my book is in bookstores (and keep making special trips to Phinney Books just to buy it from an indie bookstore, which I love), so I could be working harder on bookstore distribution.

I could also be working harder on booking events. My Seattle readers who missed the Phinney Books event want me to do another reading. I’ve talked to a few friends about readings in Los Angeles and Juneau but haven’t moved forward on either of those.

There is also the faintest possibility of an audiobook, which I know people want, but which will take more time than I have to give right now.

Honestly, the best way to make all of those things happen would be to get more sales/more reviews/more attention, the kind of attention that will force my hand and say “the best thing you can do with your time is cut back on your freelance work and get that audiobook done.” And I can ask for reviews without leaving the apartment, except in the cases where the reviewers require a mailed paperback copy.

So I guess I’ll keep pitching reviewers and trying to do online promotion, while squeezing in-person events when and where I can.

Or… what else should I be doing right now? Suggestions are always welcome. ❤