Self publishing awesomeness

Hello lovelies! How is the world treating ya?

No, don’t answer that. Considering I have about 5 people that have actually read the blog, and I see you posting stuff on SM sites or other websites, I can actually answer that myself. Any newbies that read this, feel free to comment and welcome to my blog!

<Pause rant>

I almost forgot to do what I said I was going to do with this blog from the last post.

Word count: 39K (Yay me! 7K more than before!)
Progression: Does frozen molasses mean anything to you? How about a train, moving at the speed of a brick wall? Eh… work sucks which equals book writing is nonexistent. It’s just sitting there, watching me, pleading with its I’s to have me come play with it. And here I am not able to because, unfortunately, it doesn’t pay the bills… yet.

<Resume rant>

Which leads me into the ‘topic’ of this blog. I ran across a post from a fellow FWO member who graciously showed his earnings and allowed me to ask awkward and probably stupid questions. But now I know his favorite color may or may not be green, that he probably has a mullet (just kidding), and listens to a bunch of music that now I need to invest some time into because I haven’t heard of 90% of them.

So, the point is I decided to write about self published authors and a few things they learned along the way. I asked some other FWO’er’s the same questions and below are the responses I got. I have posted three different author’s answers.
When you see:
A: (JAH = J.A.Hunter) that is the friendly ex-military man that posted his earnings first.
A: (BF = BowFinder) that is a wonderful SP female author who has amazing insight into pretty much anything I have seen her post about.
A: (LSC = Leonsandcastle) who is a bit of a kooky fellow (IMO) that has a curly blonde wig for his profile pic that makes me laugh each time I see it. But he has great imagination and his stories are in-depth and he knows a bunch of random stuff like fighting with bows.

This is a long post. You were forewarned.

Q: What is the avg word count per book that you published? 

A: (JAH) Strange Magic is the shortest at around 75,000 words. Since then I’ve stepped up my game and shoot for the 100,000 mark (Cold Hearted is 101,000, Wendigo Rising is 110,000, and my yet to be released book Mud-Man is around 110,000).
A: (BF) Most of my books are around 40,000 words. I’ve never written longer than 60,000.
A: (LSC) I don’t know how to go about calculating that really. but I would give a rough guess of about 100K is the average. But to be fair, I have written very little, and have a bulkish book in revisions.

Q: Approximately how long did it take you to write your first book, and then how long for your last?

A: (JAH) Strange Magic, the first book in the Yancy Lazarus series, took about a year to write and produce (editing, cover art, etc). But Strange Magic wasn’t my first book. The first book I ever wrote took a grand total of four years—it was a terrible high/epic fantasy novel, which will never, ever, ever see the light of day. Suffice it to say, my first full-length novel was a great learning lesson in how not to write good fantasy. My second novel, an equally terrible horror story, took two years. Strange Magic was my third full-length book and it took a year, but my writing time has sped up considerably since then. The second and third books in the Yancy Lazarus series only took around four months each to produce from start to finish.
A: (BF) I wrote my first 4 fantasy novels in one year. They sat around gathering dust, until self-publishing became a more viable option. Then I dug them out, heavily revised, had them edited, and published. By comparison, my most recent novel (still working on the last scene) will release six months from the date I began writing it.
A: (LSC) The first book attempt I did, I only had three months to write; mostly because the writing software was online and you had to pay for subscription to use it. But the first book I ever published took 8 months. The last book has taken 2 years, and is still not published.

Q:What made you go the route of self pub?

A: (JAH) I like being in control of the content I produce—I like deciding what to write, what to cut, what to keep, what my cover will look like—and all of those influenced me to self-publish. I also like that I can make my products inexpensive (normally priced books are only $3.99) while still making more per copy than a traditional author. Most of all though, I decided to self-publish because I hate waiting. Traditional publishing is so S.L.O.W. Everything takes months and months and months, and then even if you sell a book, it can take a year or more before it releases. As a self-published author, I’m free to produce and release as much (or as little) content as I choose.
A: (BF) Honestly? Sales and earnings. In my experience with publishers, enjoyable as it was, I wasn’t earning enough to buy myself more than the occasional McDonald’s meal. Worse, I wasn’t reaching a wide audience. And being enjoyed by as many readers as possible has always been my #1 goal – even more than earning a living. So I made up my mind to seek an agent and a deal with a major publisher. Unfortunately, neither were loving me. I felt very sorry for myself. While I counted my rejection letters, I watched many friends with longer careers and big publishers, writers I envied as having “made it,” switch over to self-publishing because of the higher earnings. After that, going self-pub was an easy decision.
A: (LSC) 0 replies when seeking an agent or publisher. I could not let the fact that I was a horrible writer in their eyes, stop me from having a book in my hands bearing my pen name.

Q:What snags did you find when self publishing?

A: (JAH) The first time I self-published was rough. Finding a good editor was really hard. I went through two editors that didn’t do very good work (and cost me a pretty penny) before finally finding one who was worth the money (Tamara Blain, ). I found a cover artist I liked right off the bat, though, so that was a bonus. Learning how to format my books was tricky, but was totally worth it and has saved me quite a bit in terms of time and money. There’s also taxes to consider. At first I didn’t expect to make much, but as real, actual, substantial money started coming in, my wife and I made the decision to start our own corporation for tax reasons.
A: (BF) None really. I had done a lot of research before hand, talked with a lot of self-publishers, followed the debates on pricing, etc. I was pretty well-informed going in and I’d say that was my biggest asset. That and having spent a lot of years learning the craft, including a couple years writing for small presses. I found my voice during that time and made my worst mistakes while nobody was watching.
A: (LSC) Ebooks seemed difficult to do for a larger audience, because I use LULU and they have specific mandates for what qualifies as a Epub, otherwise it’s a PDF available only from them.

Q: What are the top 3-5 things that you would advise a new writer?

A: (JAH) First, only be a writer if it makes you happy—it’s really not for the faint of heart. In writing, there are no shortcuts, no quick bucks to be made, and no guarantees of success. Pursue writing only if you genuinely enjoy writing. Write for fun. Write for you. Write because it’s what you love to do. Any other reason simply isn’t worth the headache. Second, as a writer, be prepared to fail. A lot. But know also that failure is great: failure is the road to improvement. Each book or story you write will likely be a lesson in failure, but each time you try again you will fail better.
Lastly, and this is the most important lesson I have to pass on: FINISH YOUR WORK. Now, I’ll admit, sometimes you do need to abandon a piece, but it should only be as a last resort. A story needs to have a begging, middle, and end—and each section has its own difficulties, challenges, and joys. If you only ever write beginnings, however, you’ll never fail enough at middles and ends to get good at those parts. So stick with it, even if it hurts a little.
A: (BF) My #1 advice is to do a ton of research before publishing and implement a careful strategy that begins before the books are released into the wild (preferably before they’re even written). Everyone knows you need to write a lot of words before those words start to be any good. What fewer people realize is that the publishing needs as much attention as writing. For the self-publisher, writing a good book is only half the battle. Selling it is trickier. But giving it a cover that looks self-published, skipping edits, and hoping that a great story at a cheap price will sell the book is a recipe for disappointment. Back in 2011, it might’ve worked but the indie market is far more competitive now. Even a price tag of $0.00 is no guarantee of downloads.
A: (LSC) I don’t know really. Like I hate self help guides and advice from people unqualified and I feel that I am not very educated on writing in general. But if I must answer the question, never stop learning.

Q: What would you have done differently had you known beforehand?

A: (JAH) To be honest I’m not sure I would have done anything differently. I didn’t succeed at everything, but my failures shaped me too, so I have no regrets.
A: (BF) I started out writing novellas in a niche area with a smallish audience. This was under a pen name I no longer use. Those works were too short for the readers or for the advertisers. Although they were in a series, they were only loosely connected, with each book featuring different main characters. That resulted in lower sell-through than I would otherwise have had. I knew enough to have a newsletter right from the start. But I didn’t push it hard. I didn’t make a serious effort to draw signups. I also didn’t follow up when a book sold well. Instead, I quit writing that series and jumped to a different one. Those are all mistakes I could have done differently. Still, my first self-pub efforts with my first pen name did much better than I’d expected (keeping in mind that my expectations were low). Despite the above mistakes, I’d paid enough attention to more experienced self-pubbers to get many things right.
A: (LSC) I don’t understand the question. Know beforehand of what? But I’ll make an assumption. Had I known I have difficulties in keeping a voice for a long period of time, I would have just written 140 1K short stories instead.

Q: What annoys you the most about writing?

A: (JAH) Editing. I hate editing—it feels like Chinese water drip torture. Writing itself is awesome. It’s all magic and lasers and gunfights and Phew, Phew, Phew, BOOM! Editing, on the other hand, is like mowing the lawn or grocery shopping or paying taxes. You gotta do all that stuff, but it sucks.
A: (BF) Middles. I hate them. That’s one reason why I don’t write long books. Short books make the time spent getting from beginning (love that part) to the end (another fun part) pass faster.
A: (LSC) When you actually pursue feedback and it’s not what you had envisioned the response would be, is a big blow to the ego for some.

Q: Did you make more or less money than you originally expected?

A: (JAH) I made way more money than I expected, though that’s certainly not the case with everyone. Initially, I invested around $1,000 to get my first book up and running, and my wildest hope was to double that amount in a year (so I could make back my investment, plus have enough to publish another book). After one year of self-publishing (three books and a novella later) I’ve made over $40,000, though that number is deceptive because it doesn’t account for taxes (a huge cut) or production overhead ($1,300 for a standard book, plus another $1,000 for audiobooks). I expected a few people to read my stuff, but since taking the plunge I’ve sold, approximately, 13,000 books (not counting print or audio) and lent, through Amazon’s lending library (which are also paid) another 11,000 books.
A: (BF) More. In the beginning, I only hoped to earn out my expenses and maybe make a couple hundred dollars in profit. Any profit at all would make the experiment successful, it seemed to me. Since then, my main pen name has earned a little over $300,000 across 7 books and a handful of box sets. I should mention I’ve pubbed other works under a different name that’ve only ever sold a few thousand copies, so I don’t include those numbers or earnings here. I’ve since unpublished some of those old titles for poor performance or because they’re no longer a good representation of my brand. But as a starting off place, they sold me on self-publishing.
A: (LSC) I’ve made some money off of writing, but definitely not enough to supplement a living, or afford to pay for edits.

Q: Any words of advice for someone poking their toe in the waters of Self Pub?

A: (JAH) Pay for an editor who is worth the money (and do your due diligence to find one), though don’t pay through the nose. And hire a professional cover designer, unless you are really, really, really good. Covers sell books. Lastly, if you’re going to do it with the hopes of making money, treat self-publishing like a business, because it is.

Q: How difficult was the process of getting it into the correct format for the reader you chose? (Kindle, iOS, Nook, etc.)

A: (JAH) I use Scrivener, and though it took some time to figure out (go through the entire tutorial, etc.), it’s now very easy. Best of all, you can use Scrivener to compile your book in any format.
A: (BF) I’ve always hired others to do my formatting. I’ll occasionally format a short story for paperback but I don’t format the digital files or the novel-length works for paperback.

Q: How have your reviews been rated?

A: (JAH) Reviews have been fairly good, overall. My first book Strange Magic currently has 186 reviews and a 4.2 out of 5 star rating, which isn’t bad. With that said, Strange Magic, has a lot more negative reviews then I would like, but it is a first book, so that’s to be expected. Additionally, Strange Magic, though a pretty good book, is definitely the worst of my books—I’ve grown a lot as a writer since then. The second book, Cold Hearted, has 71 reviews and a 4.8 out of 5 star rating, all 4 or 5 stars. And Wendigo Rising, which was release in November 2015, has 31 reviews 4.8 out of 5 star rating. Those books are better, I’ll admit, but mostly it’s because those people already liked my work and characters going into it.
A: (BF) On the whole, reviewers have been generous with these 7 books. Out of somewhere over 2,000 Amazon and Goodreads reviews, the average rating is around 4 stars on Amazon and a half star lower on GoodReads. My highest rated is currently 4.5, my lowest 3.8. Reviews generally trend higher as you move away from the free entry point (book 1) and deeper into the series. People tend not to continue reading (and thus reviewing) if they don’t enjoy the first couple books, which skews averages higher for later books. New releases also tend to get picked up early by existing fans, causing them to rate higher. Rating will often slope downward as the book ages and reaches a wider audience.

Q: Self promotion – what are you doing to promote your book? What has worked and what hasn’t?

A: (JAH) I blog, facebook, and twitter … but honestly, I don’t spend much time doing that stuff. In my mind the best possible marketing is more books. I do spend a little time marketing, but mostly I write so I can put more books out. I occasionally run countdown deals through KDP Select, which work well. Bookbub is awesome if you can get it (it’s really expensive, but worth the cost). Mostly I focus my marketing around book launches. I’ll usually pay to do a blog tour plus a blog blitz (costs about $80 total). During release week, I’ll discount the book to 99 cents for the first three days to help obtain a “sticky” sales ranking on Amazon (20 sales a day over five days is better than 100 sales in one day and no sales on days 2 – 5), and do a massive giveaway (usually 30 – 50 books, which go to early readers and a randomly selected handful of folks from my mailing list). My early reader/beta readers usually leave reviews early on, which is a huge marketing bonus. Oh and a mailing list. Do that. Seriously. Make a website and create a mailing list with clickable signup links in the back of all your books.
A: (BF) James answered that one well. I use the usual advertising and some light social media. I do cross-promotion with top indies in my genre and keep informed with all the best self-pub forums, blogs, and groups. Most importantly, I build and maintain my newsletter. I also have a small but lovely ARC list, which is helpful.
A: (LSC) I don’t know anything about advertising. Honest. I have tried to get on the radio in my home town, even tried to have the same contact write a blurp in a paper. But every-time, my connection turns out to be an utter flake who seemingly has no investment of me (but that’s my opinion of him). I have done research on it, and realistically, it seems like a nightmare. I have gone the social media route, and no one seems to care about anything. Engagement from friends, family and even strangers are at a 0. I would like to elaborate and state that I am trying something I have not been instructed to by any how to on marketing, and that is Posters in stores where I can.

Q: What made you want to write to begin with?

A: (JAH) A lot of my writer friends always knew they wanted to write. For me, the passion didn’t really ignite until well after high-school. I tinkered around with writing and storytelling in high school, but then drifted away from it for a good long while. It was during my time in the Marines, specifically on my first deployment to Iraq, that the writing bug wormed its way back under my skin—truth be told, while on deployment I ran out of books to read so decided I would kill some time writing some stories of my own. I’ve been writing on and off since 2007, though I started to take it more seriously in 2014/2015.
A: (BF) I’ve written stories since childhood. I don’t really know why. I’ve just always enjoyed inventing characters and worlds. I think the first story I ever wrote was because my older siblings were writing something and I didn’t want to be left out.
A: (LSC) From early on, I had a fascination with the world, as if there was indeed magic in it, and that it could be harnessed. Something about books and the effect they had on me in reality made me think that was part of the magic of it all.

That’s it for now. I had 20 questions in all, and at one point I will probably reference some of those answers, but I think what I have above is the meat of the issues. I am sure there are at least another 100 or more issues that people want to know about.
I found the entire self publishing process scary and overwhelming, but at the same time, it seems like trying to find an agent or publisher was just as hard. However, when I saw JAH’s post, I felt a million times better about self publishing, and I hope these questions will help someone out there as well.

I have added J.A.Hunter’s, BowFinder’s and Leon’s links. Enjoy!