This Week in Self-Publishing: Sales, Appearances, Reviews, Ads, Awards, and Plans
Also: what does success look like?
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.
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:
I am excited to announce that I have two readings planned:
Friday, August 4, 7 p.m.: Another Read Through in Portland
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.)
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.
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-Tacy, Little 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.)
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 category with 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.
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:
- Get more reviews
- Pitch a few more posts/articles about the book, especially re: “what I learned about self-publishing”
- Book two or three more readings
- Decide how many ads I can afford to buy
- 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?